Rachel Maddow presses Trump campaign manager on constitutionality of "extreme vetting"

Kellyanne Conway refused to engage on the potential constitutionality of Trump's ideological screening plan

Published August 25, 2016 4:25PM (EDT)

Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump's campaign manager, appeared on the Wednesday edition of MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" for an extended interview. During one exchange, Maddow pressed Conway for more details on Trump's recently unveiled plan for "extreme vetting" of immigrants (the latest iteration his original call for a temporary ban on foreign Muslims entering the United States).

"In the Cold War, we had an ideological screening test," Trump said in an August 15 speech describing his counterterrorism strategy. "The time is long overdue to develop a new screening test for the threats we face today. I call it extreme vetting."

Maddow asked Conway to specify the Cold War precedent to which Trump had referred.

Conway's offered a vague response, saying, "He's basically saying, this is not the first time the country has done this, or that it's been done. That we've done this before, but for some reason, we've become lax."

Maddow stayed on the topic, repeatedly asking Conway to identify the specific precedent:

Maddow: When did we do it before?

Conway: Well he's just saying, there's a Cold War precedent.

Maddow: But what is the Cold War precedent?

Conway: For vetting. And he is saying that in this case, is that past is not necessarily prologue, but that when you're talking about vetting, people shouldn't comment like, 'Oh my god, that's a new situation.' What if we did vet people based on their ties to terrorism, if we did that a little bit better? Is anybody arguing that we're not letting people in the country right now who do have ties to terrorists?

Maddow then brought up the McCarran Internal Security Act, a Cold War-era law that required communist organizations to register with the government. As Maddow noted, the Supreme Court subsequently issued decisions deeming aspects of such ideological vetting unconstitutional. Conway confirmed her familiarity with the law.

"So there is a Cold War precedent for ideological vetting of immigrants," Maddow said. "In that case, it was to stop communist front groups. But it didn't pass constitutional muster, and we've never had anything like that since that ever has passed constitutional muster. So what he's asking for is a new extreme vetting system, which has previously been tried and ruled unconstitutional and we abandoned it half a century ago."

Undeterred, Conway replied, "Well it sounds like you disagree with the policy, and that's fine."

"No, you can't have a McCarran Act now," Maddow said. "It's unconstitutional."

Conway declined to engage on the potential constitutionality of Trump's plan, responding, "But that's my point too. People can look at it and say, this is ridiculous, that's unconstitutional, you can't have that. Or they can say, that may work, and I'd like to hear more about it."

Watch video of the segment below, via MSNBC:

By Michael Garofalo

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Donald Trump Elections 2016 Extreme Vetting Kellyanne Conway Muslim Ban Rachel Maddow