— -- Newt Gingrich clarified a suggestion he made in which he said that American Muslims should be tested to see if they are loyal to the United States.
The former Speaker of the House, who was widely considered one of the top three vice presidential contenders for Donald Trump, held a Facebook live chat today to expand on remarks he first made during a phone interview following the deadly attack in Nice, France, on Thursday.
Gingrich did not make any mention of Trump’s decision to choose Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate, instead focusing on recent terror attacks with ties to what he classified as radical Islam.
During the phone interview with Fox News, Gingrich said that “we should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background, and if they believe in Sharia law, they should be deported.”
Gingrich tweeted this morning that there were “amazing distortions” of his remarks and later expanded upon the ideas during a 26-minute Facebook live session.
"I believe that we have to recognize that we're at war -- a very real war with people who would destroy our civilization, and people who are being recruited on the internet and people who are recruiting themselves," he said.
He did not specifically detail how he would suggest determining if any American Muslims are threats, but said there was a way to do preventative intelligence collection without infringing on civil liberties.
"If you are a practicing Muslim and you believe deeply in your faith but you're also loyal to the United States and you believe in the Constitution, you should have your rights totally, completely protected within the Constitution. You should have nothing to fear, your children should have nothing to fear."
"This is not about targeting a particular religion or targeting people who practice in a particular way," he added during the Facebook live session. "This is about looking for certain characteristics that we have learned painfully time after time involve killing people, involve attacks on our civilization.”
Gingrich did cite the surveillance program established by the New York City Police Department in the wake of the 9/11 attacks as being a strong example to follow.
He said that at the time, the program was doing an “extraordinary job of tracking potential radicals, finding out what they were doing and if necessary intervening.”
Gingrich said the case was not the same for Muslims who are in the United States but not citizens, and they should be deported if found to be in violation of the framework he laid out. And Muslims who are not currently in the United States and seeking access, “they have no right to come here.”
"We have every right and every obligation to our own citizens to screen people,” Gingrich said, saying that it would be appropriate to find out if they believe in killing homosexuals, people who leave the Islamic faith, Jews, or Christians.
He also said it should be necessary to see if anyone hoping to live in the United States is “willing to assimilate” and learn English.
"You can be an American and practice Islam. ... We're not saying you have to give up core beliefs. But we are saying that you have to decide to become an American in order to be allowed to migrate to America,” he said.
The White House responded to Gingrich's original claims from the Fox News interview at this afternoon's briefing.
“Proposals like that, rhetoric like that, is un-American by its very definition,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said of Gingrich’s comments. “This is also the worst possible time for leaders or aspiring leaders to suggest that somehow Americans should start turning on one other -- that’s exactly what the terrorists want us to do.”
Gingrich responded via Twitter: