Former congressman Beto O’Rourke had already delivered forceful criticism of the president when a reporter asked him about President Donald Trump’s response to a mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso this weekend.
“We have a president right now who traffics in this hatred, who incites this violence, who calls Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, calls asylum seekers animals and an infestation,” the Democratic presidential primary candidate told the crowd who gathered at a Sunday vigil in the grieving Texas city. Authorities are still investigating but believe the suspected gunman wrote an anti-immigrant manifesto posted online before killing 22 people and wounding dozens at a busy shopping center.
Caught after the vigil with a question about whether Trump could do anything to “make this any better,” O’Rourke had strong words for the media, too.
“What do you think?” O’Rourke shot back, sounding angry and using profanities. “You know the s—- he’s been saying … I don’t know, like, members of the press, what the f—-?”
The moment, caught on video, circulated online as leaders around the country grapple with whether there is any link between the El Paso suspect’s motives and Trump’s steady rhetoric against immigrants. As more chilling details about the shooting emerge, O’Rourke is one of a host of Democrats saying the president shares responsibility for the actions of a gunman who may face federal hate crime charges. The manifesto under investigation as a pre-rampage statement from suspect Patrick Crusius denounces “the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Sounding frustrated Sunday, O’Rourke urged reporters to “connect the dots” of Trump’s behavior. He reiterated his view: Trump not only tolerates racism and violence, but promotes it, he said.
“I just - I don’t know what kind of question that is,” he added.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While the ex-congressman is not alone in arguing Trump and his supporters have stoked anti-immigrant violence, the El Paso massacre has put the Texas native in the spotlight as he responds to a tragedy in the community he represented in Congress. As the Sunday exchange with journalists went viral, the presidential candidate - on Twitter and in interviews - repeated his indictments of Trump and his exasperation with those hesitant to link the president to the racism potentially behind the shooting.
“I stand by what I said,” O’Rourke tweeted early Monday morning.
Speaking on television Monday from the White House, Trump said the U.S. must call out “racism, bigotry and white supremacy.” Focusing on mental health measures over new gun restrictions in his remarks, he described the two mass shootings in El Paso and then Dayton, Ohio over the weekend as “evil attacks.”
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney defended the president, saying that neither Trump nor any other politician can be blamed for the violence.
But for many critics like O’Rourke, Trump’s record speaks louder than the president’s latest condemnation of the attacks. They point to Trump’s handling of migrants at the border, his tweet-tirades telling minority lawmakers to “go back” to where they came from, his comments calling Latino immigration “an invasion of our country.” A video clip that circulated anew this weekend shows Trump smiling and joking after someone in a rally crowd suggests shooting immigrants to stop them from crossing the Mexican border.
“The president has not been shy, he’s not saying this behind closed doors,” O’Rourke said in an MSNBC interview posted to his Twitter Monday. “This is out in the open.”
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