The Note: The Muslim Question

September 21, 2015, 8:54 AM


--BEN CARSON SETS OFF A FIRESTORM: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said yesterday he would not support a Muslim to be "in charge of this nation." The retired neurosurgeon also said Islam, as a religion, was inconsistent with the Constitution, ABC's BEN CANDEA and CORINNE CATHCART report. Carson told NBC's "Meet the Press": "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation." Carson, who has been near the top of several presidential polls, said he would consider voting for a Muslim in Congress depending "on who that Muslim is and what their policies are."

--WORD FROM THE CARSON CAMP: Ben Carson's communications director, Doug Watts, tells ABC's KATHERINE FAULDERS that his candidate "stands by those comments": "He believes strongly in the First Amendment and the principle of freedom of religion so there shouldn't be any mistake about that but he fully supports the religious practice of all faiths in America and respects them but also believes the people are far from ready to accept a Muslim as president in a Judeo-Christian society."

--HAPPENING TODAY -- CALLS FOR CARSON TO DROP OUT: The Council on American-Islamic Relations will hold a news conference at 11 AM Eastern at its Capitol Hill headquarters to call on Carson to withdraw from the presidential race. Carson campaign officials says they are "absolutely not" considering it. "We will find ways to have conversations with those leaders. We work with many Muslims in a variety of areas," a campaign aide told ABC News. "He has great respect for people who practice Muslim faith and we are not casting any aspersions on anyone."

--TRUMP REFUSES TO SAY WHETHER HE THINKS OBAMA WAS BORN HERE: Donald Trump refused to say whether he believes President Obama was born in the U.S. only a day after he defended himself for appearing to allow an audience member at a town hall last week get away with saying the president was born elsewhere and is a Muslim. "I talk about jobs, I'm talking about the military -- I don't get into it," Trump said on ABC's "This Week" Sunday, ABC's ALI DUKAKIS reports. "They ask that question and I just want to talk about the things because it's of no longer interest to me. We're beyond that and it's just something I don't talk about."

--ANALYSIS --ABC's RICK KLEIN: There it is, in Article VI of the Constitution: "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." Enter Ben Carson, who said Sunday he has his own test in mind: "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that," he said on "Meet the Press." Donald Trump will always be louder, and he knows what he's doing when he refuses to say he believes that President Obama is a Christian. But what Carson is saying here is a good measure more serious in its implications when it comes from a presidential candidate. Carson may be in sync with a portion of his base, and holdout birthers may appreciate a harder line than Trump. But for a tea party movement build on adherence to the Constitution, Carson's test is its own test of principle.

POPE WEEK IN THE NOTE. The visit of Pope Francis to the United States is set to captivate the attention of the nation this week and The Note will be setting aside a special place for daily insight and analysis of the Holy Father's trip. As our guide, we've enlisted the help of Father Michael A. Russo, former professor of Communication Studies at Saint Mary's College of California, an expert on the papacy who is serving this week as a media consultant for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Father Russo (@frmikerusso), who has been an on air commentator for CBS News and other networks on papal issues over the years, also blogs at Ahead of the Pope's arrival in Washington, DC tomorrow, we've asked Father Russo to tell us what he will be watching for as well as some advice he has for the 2016 presidential contenders this week:

--FR. RUSSO: "Listening to the many voices here in Washington and around the country -- what strikes me most is the space and attention given to Pope Francis, and the genuine affection and personal enthusiasm for him. So what should we be listening for in the next few days from the pope? His appeals for mercy and tenderness in a conflicted and wounded world may provide a way to examine our own personal and spiritual lives. And consider the lives of others, most especially those in need.

"Since we are in the prime time of presidential politics, this may be the one moment for candidates to avoid the dangers of trying to compete and for the rest of us to stop, and simply listen to the pope. When I think of Pope Francis, I regard him as the "parish priest" of the world, and someone most adept at providing spiritual direction. If there is a spiritual illness deep down in our collective souls, maybe it's time to take a careful listen to the points he wants us to consider. You can agree with him or disagree, but please listen.

"By the way, this is the very work of the Jesuits, namely providing spiritual counsel, and conducting directed retreats. So consider this week as a "national directed retreat," by a skilled Jesuit retreat-master, filled with sermons, speeches, and personal gestures of comfort and healing. As a "Shepherd of Souls," that's what Pope Francis does best!"

TODAY ON THE TRAIL with ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: Hillary Clinton has events in both Baton Rouge and Little Rock. 2016ers will be active in the late night talk show circuit this week. Tonight, Carly Fiorina is on the "Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon," Ted Cruz is on the "Late Show with Stephen Colbert," and Bernie Sanders is on "The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore" on Comedy Central. Jeb Bush is in Texas and Iowa. He will speak at the United States Hispanic Chamber of commerce this afternoon in Houston and then hold a town hall in Mason City, Iowa this evening. Marco Rubio is in Georgia and North Carolina, holding an event in Atlanta this morning and another in Charlotte.

NOTED -- JINDAL 'WELCOMES' CLINTON TO LOUISIANA: "As Secretary Clinton seeks to distract the voters from her e-mail scandal, she is coming to Louisiana to lecture us about the need for bigger government and socialism," presidential candidate and Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal said in a statement this morning. "Louisianians, and people across America, will not be fooled. After all, Secretary Clinton is the godmother of socialized medicine. The government takeover of our healthcare system started with HillaryCare in the 1990's. Obamacare was sold to the American people based on lies that it would improve quality and lower costs. It has done none of that and needs to be repealed."



JOE BIDEN'S WIFE WOULD BE 'ON BOARD' IF THE HE DECIDES TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT. Vice President Joe Biden's wife Dr. Jill Biden would be "on board" if the VP decides to run in 2016, a spokesman for Dr. Biden said. "Of course Dr. Biden would be on board if her husband decides to run for president, but they haven't made that decision yet," James Gleeson, a spokesman for Dr. Biden, said. The statement comes in response to an NBC report that Dr. Biden is already "100 percent on-board" with her husband running in 2016. Previous reports had indicated Dr. Biden, a key adviser to the vice president, was hesitant about her husband pursuing a third run for the White House, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ reports.

NYC MAYOR PRAISES HILLARY CLINTON (BUT WON'T ENDORSE YET). New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio praised his former boss, Hillary Clinton, yesterday, calling her an "extraordinarily capable" person and dismissed talk that her campaign is in decline, but did not offer her his endorsement for her presidential campaign. "I think she's running a very good campaign because her vision is getting stronger and stronger," the mayor said yesterday morning on "This Week," ABC's BENJAMIN BELL notes. The mayor, who ran Clinton's first campaign for Senate, cited a few policy positions he wanted the former secretary of state to expand upon: "I think the issue of wages and benefits we need to hear a little more on, certainly on the trade issue. But I do want to say, since she announced, she has consistently put forward a stronger and stronger vision, literally each week, and that's very encouraging."

CLINTON SAYS SHE WOULD BE A POLITICAL 'OUTSIDER' AS PRESIDENT. Hillary Clinton argued Sunday that as president she would be as much a political outsider as any other candidate given that she would be the first female president. "I cannot imagine anyone being more of an outsider than the first woman president, I mean really, let's think about it," the Democratic presidential candidate said during an interview on CBS News' "Face the Nation." Clinton tweeted the remark, too, ABC's LIZ KREUTZ writes. "All these mothers and fathers bring me the place mats with all the presidents, and they bring their daughters and they say, 'My daughter has a question for you,'" the former senator and secretary of state explained Sunday. "And then the daughter says, 'How come there are no girls on this place mat?' So, I think that is a pretty big, unconventional choice."

MARTIN O'MALLEY: 'I INTEND TO WIN' DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL RACE. Despite his lackluster showing the polls so far, Martin O'Malley said this weekend that he is in the Democratic presidential nomination race to win it. "I intend to win," the former Maryland governor and presidential candidate told delegates at the New Hampshire State Democratic Party convention, ABC's MARYALICE PARKS notes. "I kind of like tough fights," he continued. "Maybe the toughness of the fight is how the hidden God lets us know we are fighting for something worth saving." O'Malley is polling at around 2 percent nationwide among Democratic leaning voters, according to the most recent ABC/Washington Post Poll. Asked how exactly he planned to break through these single digits in the polls, O'Malley answered simply that he was "going to keep on going." He said he would continue campaigning as he has been: "One living room at a time."

HUCKABEE: OBAMA 'APPEASING AMERICA'S HOMOSEXUALS' WITH GAY ARMY NOMINEE. Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said this weekend that President Obama's plan to nominate an openly gay man to be secretary of the Army showed he was "more interested in appeasing America's homosexuals than honoring America's heroes." "Veterans suicide is out-of-control and military readiness is dangerously low, yet Obama is so obsessed with pandering to liberal interest groups he's nominated an openly gay civilian to run the Army," Huckabee said in a statement. Obama said Friday that he intended to nominate Eric Fanning, who has served as acting undersecretary of the Army since June, to be secretary of the Army, a civilian position. If confirmed, Fanning would become the first-ever openly gay person to lead a branch of the U.S. military, ABC's BEN GITTLESON reports.

5 STORIES YOU'LL CARE ABOUT IN POLITICS THIS WEEK. ABC's RICK KLEIN highlights five of the stories the ABC News political team is tracking in the week ahead.


HILLARY CLINTON DANCES WITH SUPPORTERS ON THE ROPE LINE IN NEW HAMPSHIRE. If Hillary Clinton has any concerns about her campaign, she didn't let on this weekend. Following her remarks at the New Hampshire Democratic Party annual convention in Saturday, the Democratic presidential candidate appeared overwhelmed and energized by the reaction from the crowd -- so much so, she did a happy dance with her supporters on the rope line. "Unbelievable. It is amazing," Clinton told ABC News about the crowd. "It feels great." ABC's LIZ KREUTZ has more.


@marianaatencio: Cardinal Timothy Dolan on #PopeFrancis's selection as Pope: 'It's what we saw IN him; what we heard ABOUT him; it's what we heard HIM say'

@OKnox: Cleanse your mind of all things Cameron/pig with my fun (I promise) history of US presidents meeting popes

@washingtonpost: Two days later, Sanders draws five times as many people as Clinton to event at same university in N.H.

@markknoller: Still anguishing over whether to run for Pres., @VP today addresses a WH Champions of Change event on law enforcement and youth.

@business: What's behind Marco Rubio's Mr. Nice Guy campaign?

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