WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump condemned white nationalism Monday and vowed that the nation would respond with “urgent resolve” to a weekend of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
But in remarks at the White House, Trump offered few specifics on legislative and policy steps he would pursue.
“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated,” Trump said. “Hate has no place in America.”
Trump also indicated that his administration’s response to the shootings would be focused more on mental health and cultural issues than on gun control.
“Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger,” Trump said. “Not the gun.”
Trump has faced a barrage of criticism for divisive tweets and statements in recent days aimed at black Democratic lawmakers and also the majority-black city of Baltimore, which he described as “rodent infested.” Since the early days of his campaign, Trump has used words such as “invasion” to describe immigration.
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The president has also faced pressure throughout much of his first years in office to condemn white nationalism, which has been on the rise. In 2017, Trump was widely criticized for saying there were “fine people on both sides” of a deadly white nationalists’ rally in Charlottesville, Va.
Hours earlier, Trump tweeted a suggestion that Congress link immigration laws to new legislation requiring stronger background checks for gun buyers.
“Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying his legislation with desperately needed immigration reform,” Trump tweeted in response to the shootings. But in his remarks at the White House, the president did not elaborate on the idea of stronger background checks.
Thirty people were killed in the shootings over the weekend – 21 in El Paso and 9 in Dayton.
Democrats said Trump didn’t go nearly far enough his his remarks.
“Mr. President, immigration isn’t the problem. White nationalism is the problem,” tweeted former Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading in polls for the Democratic nomination in 2020. “America’s inaction on gun safety legislation is the problem. It’s time to put the politics aside and pass universal background checks and an assault weapons ban.”
Democratic congressional leaders criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for not taking up background check legislation approved by the House in February. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer noted Trump’s language on background checks appeared to soften during the course of the morning.
“It took less than three hours for the president to back off his call for stronger background check legislation,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement. “When he can’t talk about guns when he talks about gun violence, it shows the president remains prisoner to the gun lobby and the NRA.”
Investigators believe the gunman in the El Paso shooting, Patrick Crusius, posted a 2,356-word “manifesto” that appeared on the anonymous message board 8chan less than a half hour before the shooting. The four-page document shared widely online contains anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric, advocates a plan to divide the nation into territories by race and warns of an impending yet unspecified attack. Crusius, who is white, targeted a heavily Hispanic area.
Trump discussed gun laws briefly, but he also blamed the “perils” of social media, the internet and video games for some of the divisions in the country and discussed the need for “cultural change” in the USA.
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Trump said he supported so-called “red flag” laws, which would allow family members or law enforcement to limit a person’s access to firearms if they are deemed a potential threat to the public.
He also said he would consider pushing for the death penalty for mass killers. In calling for bipartisan cooperation, Trump said that “open wounds cannot heal if we are divided.”
Trump described the nation as being “overcome with shock, horror and sorrow.” He called the shooter in Ohio a “twisted monster.”
“The president has made my community and my people the enemy,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Tex., an El Paso lawmaker speaking on MSNBC. “He has told the country that we are people to be feared, people to be hated.”