White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer pushed back against criticism of President Donald Trump's executive order on travel and refugees, asserting that the safety of the U.S. is paramount and the president is fulfilling his campaign promises.
President Trump has "hit the ground running, had a flurry of activity, to do exactly what he said he was going to do," including on national security, Spicer told ABC News' Martha Raddatz on "This Week."
"We're going to protect our country and our people," he said.
The order signed Friday immediately suspends immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa -- Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Iran and Libya -- for 90 days. It also ends for 120 days the entry of any refugees into the U.S., and indefinitely suspends the entry of Syrian refugees.
Spicer defended the list of banned countries by citing the Obama administration.
"These seven countries [in the executive order] were identified by the Obama Administration as needing further travel scrutiny," Spicer said. The U.S. has a visa waiver program for allies like France and the U.K., and in 2013, the Obama administration did implement a rule ending waivers for citizens of those countries who have also traveled to the seven countries listed in Trump’s order.
Spicer countered criticism that the executive order effectively constitutes a Muslim ban by pointing to the Muslim-majority nations not on the list.
"There are 46 other countries with Muslim populations that are not part of this and I think that's an important thing to note," he said.
But, when asked why other countries, such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, that are grappling with terrorist threats were not included in the order, Spicer suggested that they could be included at a later date.
"We're looking at all of this holistically," Spicer said. "But I think the first step, because I think the Obama Administration put these first [seven countries] and foremost so that these countries need to have further travel restrictions based on the intelligence we have, what the president did was take the first step through this executive order of ensuring that we're looking at the entire system."
The announcement partly fulfills a Trump campaign pledge to restrict immigration and refugee resettlement from Muslim-majority nations. It is not the full-scale “Muslim ban” that Trump first called for in December 2015, though as a candidate he repeatedly changed his position on how immigration policies relating to Muslims and residents of largely Muslim countries should be approached.