Democratic candidates for president excoriated President Donald Trump and his Republican allies anew Monday in frustration over rampant gun violence, the racist and divisive culture they accuse him of fostering, and his early-morning suggestion to tie background checks on gun purchasers to immigration legislation.
After a taxing weekend filled with frayed nerves, anger and tears, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, who hail from the states where two gunmen killed 31 people this weekend, strongly condemned Republican inaction.
Speaking with CNN on Monday morning from Dayton, Ohio, where one of the shootings killed nine people, Ryan demanded that Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, “do something.”
“People are getting killed in the streets in America, and nobody is acting,” Ryan said.
O’Rourke, who is from El Paso, Texas, where the other shooting killed 22 people, continued to focus on a question he had been asked late Sunday about whether there was anything Trump could do to make things better in the wake of the shootings.
O’Rourke, who remained equal parts upset and incredulous, said in an interview Monday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that the president had exhibited “open racism” — an “invitation to violence.”
“Anyone who is surprised” by the violence, O’Rourke said, “is part of this problem right now — including members of the media who ask, ‘Hey Beto, do you think the president is racist?’
“Well, Jesus Christ, of course he’s racist,” he said. “He’s been racist from Day 1.”
Ryan and O’Rourke were just two of several Democratic primary contenders who expressed continued outrage about the shootings and the strains of white nationalism some said emanate from the White House. Authorities in Texas have said the El Paso shooter wrote a manifesto posted online that railed against immigrants and that said the attack was “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
“We have a president who actively demonizes racial and religious minorities, who coddles Nazis and Klansmen, and who wields white supremacy as a political weapon,” Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said Monday.
On Monday morning, Trump said on Twitter that “We cannot let those killed in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, die in vain” and called on Republicans and Democrats to come together to pass background checks, potentially combined with immigration reform legislation — a stipulation that would make Democrats likely to oppose it.
In additional comments later Monday, Trump condemned white supremacy but did not repeat his call for background checks. Instead, he called for stronger action to address mental illness and argued that the internet can “radicalize disturbed minds.”
“Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger,” he said, “not the gun.”
That contention, said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., was Trump’s attempt “to avoid truth.”
“There’s mental illness&hate throughout world, but U.S. stands alone w/high rate of gun violence,” Klobuchar said on Twitter. “When someone can kill 9 people in a minute, that gun should never have been sold.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts also took issue with Trump’s framing of the situation.
“White supremacy is not a mental illness,” she said Monday afternoon. “We need to call it what it is: Domestic terrorism. And we need to call out Donald Trump for amplifying these deadly ideologies.”
Warren and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York were among the candidates who called on McConnell to bring lawmakers back into session to vote on gun safety measures. In a CNN interview, Gillibrand called Trump’s suggestion that gun measures be tied to immigration reform “absurd.”
“He’s linking the issue of basic, common-sense gun reform, that we should be going back into the Senate today to vote on, with this issue of immigration because, again, he continues to try to demonize people seeking asylum,” she said.
Gillibrand was also one of a few candidates who turned Trump’s remark that white supremacy should be condemned back on him. She reposted a video of Trump’s speech with a comment of her own: “We have been. Now it’s your turn.”