MONTPELIER >> Vermont's congressional delegation roundly criticized remarks by leading Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who said the United States should stop admitting foreign Muslims onto American shores.
"Demagogues throughout our history have attempted to divide us based on race, gender, sexual orientation or country of origin," Sen. Bernie Sanders said in a statement Monday. "Now, Trump and others want us to hate all Muslims. The United States is a great nation when we stand together. We are a weak nation when we allow racism and xenophobia to divide us."
Sen. Patrick Leahy condemned Trump. In a statement Monday, Leahy said he was "appalled that some are espousing the hate-filled view that a country as great as ours should have a religious litmus test."
In an email to supporters Tuesday, Leahy said Trump "has said some shocking things throughout his presidential campaign, but this is really beyond the pale."
"I condemn these words. I condemn Islamophobia. I condemn Donald Trump's hateful rhetoric. Enough," Leahy wrote.
He added: "Anyone who doesn't understand that religious tolerance is the core of our freedoms is not qualified to be a candidate for president."
On Tuesday, Rep. Peter Welch called Trump a "con man" and a "bully," and said that the real battle should be fought against ISIS, not Muslims.
"He doesn't pretend to have a plan that will work," Welch said in a statement. "His 'policy' is a blanket condemnation of an entire religion whose members are devoted to their families and their communities, some of whom serve our country in the Armed Forces."
Trump's statement on Muslims, made Monday, included a link to a poll by a conservative think tank, the Center for Security Policy. The survey claims that "nearly a quarter of the Muslims polled believed that, 'It is legitimate to use violence to punish those who give offense to Islam by, for example, portraying the prophet Mohammed.'"
"Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine," Trump said in his statement. "Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life."
As he does frequently in press releases and speeches, Trump concluded his statement saying "If I win the election for president, we are going to Make America Great Again."
A CNN/ORC poll released Monday shows Trump ahead in Iowa, with 33 percent support.
Conor Casey, executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, also weighed in on the matter Tuesday with a blistering statement against Trump.
"The shock value that Donald Trump creates each time he speaks seems to grow with every passing day," Casey said. "But the attention grabbing quotes over the acceptance of Muslims (or lack thereof) in this country do more than just make headlines – they're sowing sentiment of fear and hate in American society against an innocent group of people."
The condemnation of Trump's remarks follow the Vermont congressional delegation's full-throated support after the Paris terror attacks of Syrian refugee programs. Leahy has called for bringing 100,000 refugees into America, exceeding President Obama's current cap, which is 10,000.