Whether or not Donald Trump provoked him, President Obama uttered the forbidden phrase “radical Islam” four times Tuesday in a diatribe against the presumptive Republican nominee and others who accuse him of pushing political correctness to absurd extremes in the war on terrorism.
Emerging from a meeting with his top counterterrorism officials two days after a radicalized Muslim gunman killed 49 and wounded 53 at a gay nightclub in Florida, the president called Mr. Trump’s attitude about Muslims “dangerous.” And Mr. Obama launched into an angry lecture on civil liberties, diversity and national security that encapsulated seven-plus years of criticism of his handling of the fight against Islamist terrorists.
“There is no magic to the phrase ‘radical Islam,’” Mr. Obama said at the Treasury Department. “It is a political talking point. It is not a strategy.”
A day after Mr. Trump attacked the president and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for avoiding the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” Mr. Obama said the “loose talk and sloppiness” had moved beyond partisan rhetoric to a harmful issue in the presidential race.
“We are now seeing how dangerous this kind of mindset and this kind of thinking can be,” Mr. Obama said. “We now have proposals from the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States to bar all Muslims from immigrating into America. Where does this stop? Are we going to start treating all Muslim-Americans differently? Are we going to start subjecting them to special surveillance? Are we going to start [discriminating against] them because of their faith?”
Campaigning in North Carolina later Tuesday, Mr. Trump responded to Mr. Obama’s scolding by questioning why the president was more outraged with him than with the terrorist gunman responsible for the Orlando massacre.
“I watched President Obama today, and he was more angry at me than he was at the shooter,” Mr. Trump said in a speech in Greensboro. “That’s the kind of anger he should have for the shooter and these killers that shouldn’t be here.”
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani also intensified accusations that Mr. Obama and his advisers can’t effectively fight terrorism if they won’t even call the enemy by its real name.
“The words that the president uses are important,” Mr. Giuliani said Tuesday on CNN. “He is creating a feeling, particularly among maybe more liberal members of society, you can’t say ‘Islamic terrorism.’”
Mr. Giuliani said, “The Obama strategy of not mentioning a name obviously isn’t working. We’ve had four attacks in the last year [Paris, San Bernardino, Brussels and Orlando]. That’s outrageous. We’ve had four attacks. They’re increasing. The fact is that the weaker you are, the harder they hit you.”
He included former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, as part of the problem.
“It’s their policies that brought us to where we are today,” Mr. Giuliani said. “We’re in a much more dangerous situation than we were before Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton took over.”
Mr. Obama said of his critics in the GOP that their “kind of yapping has not prevented folks across government from doing their jobs.”
“There has not been a moment in my seven-and-a-half years as president where we have not been able to pursue a strategy because we didn’t use the label ‘radical Islam,’” Mr. Obama said in a tone of exasperation and sarcasm. “Not once has an adviser of mine said, ‘Man, if we use that phrase, we are going to turn this whole thing around,’ not once.”
The president asked, “So someone seriously thinks that we don’t know who we are fighting? If there is anyone out there who thinks we are confused about who our enemies are — that would come as a surprise to the thousands of terrorists who we have taken off the battlefield.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the administration is trying to contain the Islamic State, also known by the acronym ISIL, rather than defeating the terrorist group. He said Congress could help by passing a defense appropriations bill facing a veto threat from the White House.
“We need to do what we can to fight back now, to prevent more heartbreak like we saw this weekend,” Mr. McConnell said. “We are a nation at war. We are a nation under attack. We need to defeat, not contain, ISIL — and we need the tools necessary to take down terrorists inspired by its brutal ideology. We need to be able to better address the threat of lone wolf terrorists. We need to be able to connect the dots of terrorist communications in order to disrupt their plans.”
Mr. Obama devoted much of his mini-speech to explaining why he hasn’t, and won’t in the future, use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” in public when discussing national security. He spoke just after he received an update on efforts to defeat the Islamic State.
“Groups like ISIL and al Qaeda want to make this war a war between Islam and America, or between Islam and the West,” Mr. Obama said. “They want to claim that they are the true leaders of over a billion Muslims around the world who reject their crazy notions. That’s how they recruit. And if we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush, and imply that we are at war with an entire religion, then we are doing the terrorists’ work for them.”
He said proposals by Mr. Trump and other Republicans to bar Muslims from the U.S. “will make us less safe, fueling ISIL’s notion that the West hates Muslims, making Muslims in this country and around the world feel like no matter what they do, they’re going to be under suspicion and under attack.
“It makes Muslim-Americans feel like their government is betraying them,” the president said.
Mr. Obama softened his tone later in the day while welcoming lawmakers to the White House for the annual congressional picnic Tuesday night.
“At moments like this it’s critically important for us to remind ourselves of what binds us together as a people,” he said, referring to the Orlando shootings. “Regardless of race or ethnicity or religion or sexual orientation, we’re all Americans, and we look out for each other. I know that we’re at a contentious time in our political life in this country. I think it’s also important for us to remember, at a time when partisanship is seemingly at an all-time high, none of us is born Democrat or Republican.”
But Mr. Obama, who will travel to Orlando on Thursday to console families of the victims of the gay club massacre, used his Treasury Department address to renew his call for Congress to impose more gun control, especially a ban on assault-style rifles such as the one used in Orlando.
“Stop making it as easy as possible for terrorists to buy assault weapons. Reinstate the assault weapons ban,” Mr. Obama said. “Otherwise these kinds of events are going to keep on happening.”
The president said Omar Mateen, the Orlando gunman, appears to have been radicalized by extremist propaganda on the internet.
While Mr. Obama said there’s no information that Mateen was specifically directed by the Islamic State or another terrorist group, an investigation shows it’s “increasingly clear that the killer took in extremist information and propaganda” online.
The president said the gunman appears to have been an “angry, disturbed, unstable young man who became radicalized” by that propaganda.
• S.A. Miller contributed to this report