WASHINGTON Feb 9 A dozen Democratic senators on
Thursday urged the Trump administration to reconsider
overhauling and renaming a U.S. government program so it would
focus solely on countering Islamist extremism, saying it could
jeopardize security and may be illegal.
Restructuring the program to omit white supremacists and
other non-Islamist groups "would severely damage our credibility
with foreign allies and partners as an honest broker in the
fight against violent extremism, and prove divisive in
communities across our country," Senators Cory Booker, Brian
Schatz and 10 others wrote in a letter addressed to cabinet
Reuters reported last week that Republican President Donald
Trump's administration wants to rename the "Countering Violent
Extremism," or CVE, program introduced by the previous
Democratic administration of Barack Obama to "Countering Islamic
Extremism" or "Countering Radical Islamic Extremism."
The potential name change reflects a broader goal of Trump's
to exclude groups in the program's purview such as white
supremacist, whose followers have also carried out bombings and
shootings in the United States, five sources familiar with the
CVE aimed to address the causes of why some people are drawn
to violence or extremism by providing grants and other resources
to community groups to develop prevention efforts, including
using social media.
Earlier this month, Trump signed an executive order
temporarily blocking travel to the United States by people from
seven predominantly Muslim countries, prompting a global outcry
and charges from his critics that he was advancing a white
Trump has rejected characterizations of the order as a
"Muslim ban" and said it is necessary to protect national
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials who work on
CVE met on Tuesday to continue discussions about the proposed
changes, according to two sources who have worked closely with
DHS on the program.
Refocusing CVE efforts on Islam would "alienate Muslim
organizations and individuals in the United States" the senators
wrote to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense
James Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Wade
Warren, acting administrator for the U.S. Agency for
"It will also put U.S. service members, diplomats,
development practitioners, and citizens traveling the world at
significant risk, and will increase the likelihood of more
attacks," the letter said, and could "violate constitutional
protections and the rights of American citizens."
White House press secretary Sean Spicer declined to comment
on the reported changes last week, but said during a briefing
that the program was initially intended to focus on "rooting out
radical Islamic terrorism."
Several former DHS officials told Reuters the CVE program
was not conceived with that goal, although it has been
criticized by even some supporters as tacitly too focused on
Muslims or largely ineffective.
(Reporting by Dustin Volz in Washington, additional reporting
by Julia Edwards Ainsley and Kristina Cooke; editing by Grant