From NBC/NJ's Erin McPike and NBC's Mark Murray
ST. PETERSBURG, FL -- At an availability with reporters here, Romney answered questions about today's report suggesting that he would not appoint Muslims to his Cabinet. "No, that's not what I said. His question was, Did I need to have a Muslim in my Cabinet in order to confront radical jihad, or would it be important to have a Muslim in my Cabinet?' And I said no, I don't think you need a Muslim in the Cabinet to take on radical jihad any more than we needed a Japanese American to understand the threat that was coming from Japan or something of that nature."
Romney continued, "It's something I rejected, number one. And number two, point out that haven't given a lot of thought to the people I would have in my Cabinet. I don't have boxes I check off in terms of ethnicity, and it's not that I need a certain number of people representing ethnic groups. Instead, I would choose people based on their merits... I'm open to having people of any faith, ethnic group. But they would be selected based on their capacity and capabilities and what they could bring to the Administration, but I don't choose people based on checking off a box."
What sparked this story was a op-ed in today's Christian Science Monitor by Mansoor Ijaz, who wrote: "I asked Mr. Romney whether he would consider including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his cabinet as advisers on national security matters, given his position that 'jihadism' is the principal foreign policy threat facing America today. He answered, '…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."
*** UPDATE *** From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
A search of FEC records, finds that a Mansoor Ijaz has given $23,000 to Democratic candidates and committees from 1997 to 2000, including $2,000 to Hillary Clinton's 2000 Senate run and $15,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.