RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump calls for urgent resolve in trying to prevent massacres like the ones we saw in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend. Twenty-nine people were killed in two shootings that occurred just hours apart. The first was in El Paso at a Walmart. Just hours later, a gunman opened fire in a popular nightlife district in Dayton, Ohio. Police are treating the El Paso shooting as an act of domestic terrorism. Authorities also believe the suspect in that shooting posted an anti-immigration statement before the attack. Here's what President Trump had to say about that at the White House this morning.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The shooter in El Paso posted a manifesto online consumed by racist hate. In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America. Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.
MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith and political correspondent Scott Detrow join us to talk more about the president's remarks. Tam, I want to start with you. We heard there a clip - President Trump condemning white supremacy outright, calling it an ideology that that must be defeated. This is the first time we've heard the president use that kind of language, is it not?
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The president has over his presidency struggled to in a very clear way condemn white supremacy. After the march in Charlottesville, the white supremacist march that resulted in the death of a counter-protester, the president really did not say the words that (laughter) - what he actually said was that there were fine people on both sides, very fine people. And that is something that he has not been able to live down.
You know, what the FBI said about the El Paso attack was that it underscores the continued threat posed by domestic violent extremists and perpetrators of hate crimes. In that manifesto that you referenced, the alleged shooter used terms that are very similar to terms that president himself has used. The term invasion - here is President Trump at at a rally in Florida earlier this year talking about immigrants as invaders of this country.
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TRUMP: When you see these caravans starting out with 20,000 people, that's an invasion. I was badly criticized for using the word invasion. It's an invasion, and it's also an invasion of drugs coming in from Mexico. OK? It's an invasion of drugs.
TRUMP: They all better be careful because, you know, we're destroying the lives of hundreds of thousands of people a year with the drugs that are pouring across our southern border. They better damn well be careful.
MARTIN: So we hear there the president using that terminology invasion that's what we saw, as you note, Tam, in the language of this so-called manifesto posted by the El Paso shooter. And while, you know, we should just acknowledge that, in that same manifesto, the alleged shooter says that his sentiments towards immigrants predates Donald Trump as president of the United States, at the same time, this president is known for retweeting, amplifying voices online that are divisive and racist, outright racist.
KEITH: Yeah, he has. In his remarks, the president talked about the need to go into the dark recesses of the internet and find people and prevent them from committing such crimes in the future. And he talked about the problems that exist in these dark recesses of the internet. The president himself has retweeted or tweeted out memes and videos that have come from those very same dark recesses. But what his supporters would say, and what White House officials say, is that the president's rhetoric is one thing, but he didn't pull the trigger, that the people who are responsible for these shootings are the people who are responsible for these shootings, not rhetoric coming from the president of the United States.
MARTIN: Scott, Democrats have been very blunt about placing blame on President Trump and his rhetoric around immigration.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Yeah. As the campaign has gone on, Democrats have become increasingly showing no reservation about saying the president is a racist, that he is running a re-election campaign based on stirring up us-versus-them sentiments. That's become a common theme from many of the Democrats running for president, which is really remarkable. But this really increased again in the wake of these shootings and especially the alleged anti-immigrant motivations from the El Paso shooter. Here's Elizabeth Warren speaking to MSNBC this weekend.
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ELIZABETH WARREN: The president has embraced white nationalists. He has encouraged white nationalists. He is there with white nationalism. When white nationalists embrace him and call him their friend, you know, I take them at their word on that.
DETROW: So again, I think that's why it's notable, as Tam was mentioning before, that the president did condemn white nationalism in unqualified language earlier today. You've heard similar statements like Warren's from many other candidates. And a lot of people are pointing to that same rally that we heard from the president a few moments ago from this moment that happened at that rally.
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TRUMP: But how do you stop these people?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Shoot them.
TRUMP: You can't. There's no...
TRUMP: That's only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement.
DETROW: And that pause was someone yelling up on the stage, shoot them. And the president responded in that joking manner.
MARTIN: So he had said, what are you going to do about these people? And someone in the crowd says, you shoot them.
MARTIN: It's hard to find words after that when you think about the tragedies that unfolded over the weekend. Tam, let's talk about what the president calls an urgent need to prevent massacres like this from happening. What does that mean? I mean, did we get any concrete announcements from the president today?
KEITH: Yeah, he spoke a lot about mental health, which is something that he has focused on again and again after mass shootings. Democrats tend to, after these events, focus on gun laws, on restricting access to high-capacity magazines and on tightening background checks. And in his remarks, President Trump didn't mention guns really in any way except to say that it isn't the gun that kills someone. It's the mental ill - the mentally ill person with the gun that kills people. What he did call for were so-called red flag laws. And here's a little bit of that tape.
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TRUMP: We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms and that, if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process. That is why I have called for red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders.
KEITH: And this is something that his allies, including his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and also South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, have endorsed. One thing that is notable, however, is that earlier this morning, President Trump tweeted that he thought that there should be stronger background checks for guns. Then, when he went to deliver his remarks that he read from a teleprompter and a prepared speech, there was no mention of that at all.
MARTIN: He also tweeted out early this morning that he thought that some kind of legislation that would tie immigration reform to tighter gun control or background checks, rather, was something that should be considered. And that didn't come up in the scripted remarks, did it?
KEITH: No, and it's also somewhat mind-boggling suggestion, just given the politics of the last decade or decades, even. Immigration reform is something that has been utterly intractable. Gun violence prevention and gun control legislation has also been intractable. The last major bipartisan effort was in 2013, and that failed in the Senate. And so also to have him then trying to link gun legislation to immigration reform after a shooting where the alleged shooter says he was inspired by concerns about immigrants coming into the country...
MARTIN: Right, where immigrants were the target.
KEITH: It's just a very strange - yeah, it's a - and where immigrants were the target, it's a very strange connection for the president to make.
MARTIN: Scott, when we talk about these red flag laws, just remind us where the debate is in Congress when it comes to gun control.
DETROW: Sure. Well, the first - for the first time in years, a chamber of Congress has actually passed gun control legislation. Earlier this year, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives did pass a couple background check bills. They went to the Senate. You know, Democrats for years were wary of gun control measures. That has really gone away, and now a lot of Democrats campaign on it. In fact, gun control measures have become a big part of the platform of a lot of the presidential candidates.
But the Senate is controlled by Republicans, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear he has no intention of calling a vote on these bills. There wouldn't be the votes to pass them anyway, based on the makeup of the Senate right now and where Republican senators have stood on similar measures before.
You know, I think so many mass shootings happened at - now that it's really hard to see which ones will just kind of come and go without a political moment and which ones will cause some pressure for lawmakers to act. I was at one of these first big events where all of the Democratic candidates come and speak, and it was the day after that Virginia Beach shooting a few months ago.
DETROW: And it struck me that in a room of people who all agree on gun control, one of - I think it was - 11 candidates felt compelled to even mention the shooting that had happened 24 hours before. Obviously, two shootings in the span of 24 hours has heightened this moment. I think you could see some political pressure. One thing that I'm thinking of is that moment that we were reporting on earlier today, that vigil in Dayton...
DETROW: ...When the Republican governor was speaking, and the crowd started to chant, do something.
MARTIN: Do something, right.
DETROW: Of course, Congress is gone for the next month, so it's hard to see momentum building. Democrats want McConnell to come back and reconvene the Senate - very unlikely that'll happen.
MARTIN: Tam, any closing thoughts about either the president's performance today or where the debate goes from here?
KEITH: This debate is going to continue, and I think there's also going to be a big debate about whether the president coming out one time and condemning white supremacy is enough.
MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, also NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow for us. Thanks to you both.
DETROW: Sure thing.
KEITH: You're welcome.
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