WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday forcefully condemned white supremacy in the wake of twin mass shootings over the weekend, citing the threat of “racist hate” and calling for national unity in devising a response.
“In one voice our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” Trump said.
But Trump stopped well short of supporting the kind of broad gun control measures that activists and Democrats have sought for years, instead calling for stronger action to address mental illness, violence in the media and in video games, as well as “the perils of the internet and social media.”
Speaking at a lectern beneath a portrait of George Washington in the White House Diplomatic Reception Room, Trump read from a prepared script on a teleprompter.
“These barbaric slaughters are an assault upon our communities, an attack upon our nation and a crime against all of humanity,” Trump said.
Trump took no questions and did not repeat his call on Twitter earlier in the morning for Republicans and Democrats to work together to strengthen background checks for prospective gun buyers, but his proposal to link new gun control measures with immigration restrictions is likely to leave Democrats sternly opposed.
Trump’s Twitter comments came as the country mourns mass shootings in El Paso and Ohio that together killed 29 people.
“We cannot let those killed in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, die in vain,” he wrote. “Likewise for those so seriously wounded. We can never forget them, and those many who came before them. Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying....”
“....this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform. We must have something good, if not GREAT, come out of these two tragic events!”
It was not immediately clear what gun control proposals Trump was referring to. The House passed back-to-back bills on firearms soon after Democrats took control, voting in February to require background checks for all gun purchasers, including those at gun shows and on the internet, and to extend waiting periods for would-be gun purchasers flagged by the existing instant-check system. They were the first significant gun control bills to clear the chamber in a quarter century.
The vote to close the so-called Charleston loophole, a gap in the background check system that allowed a man to buy the gun used to kill nine black members of a church in Charleston, South Carolina, was specifically tied to a white supremacist who obtained a gun despite a previous admission of drug possession.
But Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, has given no indication that the measures would be taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate. On Monday, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader, urged Trump to demand that McConnell put the universal background check measure up for a vote in the Senate.
Neither House proposal was attached to immigration legislation, which has proved as intractable as gun control. The House has already approved immigration legislation that would offer a path to citizenship for more than 2 million immigrants in the country illegally — including the so-called “Dreamers,” who were brought to this country illegally as children.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved very different immigration legislation last week to greatly tighten rules for asylum-seekers along the lines Trump has requested.
In El Paso, law enforcement officials arrested Patrick Crusius, a 21-year-old white man from Allen, Texas, which is about a 10-hour drive from the Walmart in El Paso where he opened fire Saturday and killed 20 people.
In the manifesto, Crusius said he supported mass shootings in two New Zealand mosques this year that killed 51 people. In March, after the New Zealand shootings, Trump said he did not see white nationalism as a rising global threat.
Early Sunday in Dayton, Ohio, police killed the gunman within one minute of hearing shots fired into a popular nightlife spot in the city. The gunman, Connor Betts, 24, was wearing a mask, body armor and hearing protection and was carrying a high-capacity magazine that can hold 100 rounds of ammunition. Nine people were killed, including Betts’ sister.
Congress has been gripped by inaction on gun violence for years, and with Democrats running the House and Republicans in charge of the Senate, that is unlikely to change soon.
Over the weekend, members of both parties retreated to their familiar stances. Republicans issued statements praising law enforcement and raising concerns about mental health issues, and Democrats called for the Senate to return to pass the House bills. Lawmakers in both parties have left Washington for their August recess and do not plan to return to the Capitol until September.
“This is a time that demands not words but actions,” Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., a member of House Democratic leadership, said in a statement, in which he called not only for the Senate to return but the House as well, so that it could consider an assault weapons ban, which he introduced earlier this year.
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the No. 2 Republican in the House, is still recovering from gunshot wounds he sustained in 2017 when a gunman opened fire during practice for a congressional baseball game. Scalise said the weekend shootings should be called “domestic terrorism,” but he also blamed the media, saying that “a media culture that encourages viewing people solely through hyperpartisan lenses,” can “often lead to violent consequences.”
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of a handful of Republican centrists in the Senate, already faced a tough reelection race should she choose to run again. On Sunday, she issued a statement saying, “We have united in the wake of tragedies in the past, and we can do so again to stop this violence.” She is one of only two Republicans left in the Senate who voted for a background check bill almost identical to the one passed this year by the House, and Monday she wrote on Twitter that she had long supported “closing loopholes” in such checks.
But passage of such legislation in the Senate would take enormous political pressure — and probably Trump’s pushing. The bill, written by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, fell to a filibuster in 2013. Since then eight of the Democrats who voted for the measure have been replaced by Republicans.
Some of the Democrats campaigning for the party’s nomination to run for president condemned Trump for not calling the El Paso attack a white supremacist act of domestic terrorism. Some Democrats blame the White House for what they suggested was a tolerance for white nationalist groups, something that was not common among Trump’s recent predecessors.
In another Twitter post Monday, the president railed against the news media, blaming it for the contributing to “the anger and rage” in the United States.
Still, no federal agency is responsible for designating domestic terrorism organizations, as it has for international terrorism. Similarly, there is no criminal charge of domestic terrorism, and suspects who are by definition considered domestic terrorists are charged under other laws, such as hate crime, gun and conspiracy statutes.
According to FBI statistics, there have been eight mass shootings in the United States since 2017 in which the shooters espoused white supremacist views.