Feeling some heat for saying that the low number of Muslims in the U.S. population means that appointing a Muslim to his Cabinet wouldn't be "justified," Mitt Romney tried today to clarify the question he'd been asked -- but he's still not disputing that he said what he said in response.
As we noted earlier today, Mansoor Ijaz writes in the Christian Science Monitor that he asked Romney recently whether he would "consider including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his cabinet as advisers on national security matters." Romney's response: "Based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration."
At a press availability today, Romney was asked about what seemed like a quota system for Cabinet positions. He answered by saying that Ijaz had misrepresented the question he'd asked him: "His question was, 'Did I need to have a Muslim in my cabinet to be able to confront radical Jihad and would it be important to have a Muslim in my cabinet,' and I said, 'No, I don't think that you have to have a Muslim in the cabinet to be able to take on radical Jihad any more than during the Second World War we needed to have a Japanese-American to understand the threat that was coming from Japan or something of that nature.'"
Romney said he "just rejected that argument, number one, and then number two, I point out that people who would be part of my cabinet is something that I really haven't given a lot of thought to at this point, but I don't have boxes that I check off as to their ethnicity. It's not that I have to have a certain number of each different ethnic group; instead I would choose people based upon their merits and their capabilities."
So did you hear Romney denying that he said that Muslims are too small a percentage of the population to justify a Cabinet position?
No, we didn't either.
We just asked Romney campaign spokesman Kevin Madden for further clarification: "Is Romney denying that he said 'based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified.' Or is he just disputing the characterization of the question that was asked of him?"
Madden's e-mailed response: "Disputing the characterization."
In a follow-up e-mail, we asked Madden what percentage of the population a religious group must represent before Romney believes a Cabinet position is "justified." We'll let you know when we get a response.