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2020 Democratic candidates address gun violence and Trump's "hateful rhetoric"

Democrats renew calls for gun control
Democrats renew calls for gun control after massacres 02:43

On the same day that President Trump is visiting the sites of mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso that claimed the lives of 31 people this past weekend, several of the Democratic presidential candidates are giving their own speeches, too, to address gun violence and racism in America. 

The Democrats are responding to Mr. Trump as much as to the scourge of gun violence, condemning the president's anti-immigrant rhetoric that they feel is hurting the country. They also argue that Mr. Trump has not shown enough sympathy in the wake of the shootings.

Sen. Cory Booker, of New Jersey, went to the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine people were killed by a white supremacist in 2015, to take his stand. He applied his campaign message of "radical love" for responding to gun violence and specifically addressed the root of mass shootings that are inspired by white supremacist ideology.

While some candidates, most prominently former Vice President Joe Biden, have argued that Mr. Trump's language targeting immigrants is an aberration in American history, Booker said that "racist violence has always been part of the American story."

"We have seen it from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement; from the Red Summer 100 years ago to Charlottesville; From the lynching of people of Mexican descent in Porvenir, Texas 101 years ago to the massacre targeting Latinx people in El Paso, Texas this past Saturday," Booker said. He also implicitly criticized Mr. Trump for repeatedly referring to an "invasion" of immigrants and for his recent description of the majority-black city of Baltimore as "rat- and rodent-infested."

"The act of anti-Latino, anti-immigrant hatred we witnessed this weekend did not start with the hand that pulled the trigger," Booker said. "It was sowed by those who spoke the same words the El Paso murderer did: warning of an 'invasion.' It was sowed by those who spoke of an 'infestation,' and 'rats and rodents' in majority Black cities.  It was sowed by those who draw equivalence between neo-Nazis and those who protest them. It was sowed by a president who spews hateful rhetoric and endangers the lives of people of color and immigrants in this country."

Booker then turned to prescriptions for combating mass shootings, including requiring federal law enforcement agencies to improve the monitoring and reporting of domestic terrorism threats by white supremacists.

In his speech Wednesday afternoon on the weekend's gun violence, Vice President Biden also drew a line between Mr. Trump's rhetoric and the recent violence in El Paso.

"How far is it from Trump's saying this 'is an invasion' to the shooter in El Paso declaring, 'This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas?' How far apart are those comments? Not far at all," Biden said. He added, "In both clear language and in code, this president has fanned the flames of white supremacy in this nation."

"His low energy, vacant-eyed mouthing of the words written for him, condemning white supremacists this week I don't believe fooled anyone," Biden continued.

"We have a problem with this rising tide of supremacy — white supremacy — in America. And we have a president who encourages and emboldens it," Biden said.

Federal authorities are investigating the El Paso massacre as a possible hate crime and examining an anti-immigrant political manifesto believed to have been written by the shooter that denounces the large and growing Hispanic population in Texas. 

In Biden's view, President Trump falls far short of the standards set by past presidents. He pointed to President George W.  Bush "going to a mosque after 9/11" and to President Obama, who, after the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME, delivered a eulogy on racial in America and of the need to act to stop gun violence considered to be one of the most powerful speeches of his presidency. 

Biden recalled "presidents who led and opposed and chose to fight for the best of what American character is about. There's deafening silence now."

Beto O'Rourke, a native of El Paso who used to represent the city in Congress, gave an impassioned speech on Wednesday praising the city for its history of welcoming immigrants.

"We live in a country where we have a president that demonizes communities like this one, who vilifies immigrants, who says that those from Mexico are rapists and criminals and warns of invasions and infestations," O'Rourke said. "At one point or another -- and for us it was on Saturday -- that violence, and that intolerance, and that inaction in the face of violence and intolerance, will find us. And it did."

O'Rourke said that he believed the community of El Paso "holds to answer" to fostering tolerance in the presence of hate.

"The way that we welcome one another and see our differences not as disqualifying or dangerous, but as the very source of our strength, as the foundation of our success -- that needs to be the example for the United States of America today," O'Rourke said.

In an interview with CBSN's "Red & Blue," Steve Bullock talked about concrete steps he supports to stem gun violence, including universal background checks and banning assault weapons. He also expressed skepticism about Mr. Trump's purported support for background checks.

"I'll applaud the president if he actually does take action, but we've heard this song before from him," Bullock said.

For his part, Mr. Trump has denounced the El Paso shooter, and denied that his language has had any impact on the political and cultural milieu.

"My critics are political people that are trying to make points ... some of them in particular are very low in the polls," the president told reporters before heading to El Paso Wednesday. "Any group of hate whether it's white supremacy, whether it's any other kind of supremacy whether it's Antifa, whether it's any group of hate I am very concerned about it, and I'll do something about it."

Mr. Trump alluded to theories that the shooter in Dayton was a supporter of presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. In fact, law enforcement officials have not made any conclusions on the gunman's motive for the shooting that left nine dead, including his sister. They said that the shooter had been "exploring violent ideologies" and "had a history of obsession with mass shootings."

"I don't blame Elizabeth Warren and I don't blame Bernie Sanders in the case of Ohio and I don't blame anybody. I blame — these are sick people," he said. "These are people that are really mentally ill, mentally disturbed. It's a mental problem." 

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