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2020 Democratic Candidates Condemn Shootings, Address White Supremacy


Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination are calling for gun control measures after the latest mass shootings. They're insisting that this latest violence is not just about guns. It's also about white supremacy and domestic extremism. NPR's Asma Khalid is covering the 2020 campaign, and she's here in the studio.

Hi, Asma.


SHAPIRO: Several candidates were quick to condemn the attacks and the atmosphere in which they occurred. Talk us through the latest.

KHALID: That's right, Ari. This afternoon, a few candidates were in San Diego. They were there addressing the largest Latino civil rights organization. And former Vice President Joe Biden - who's a presidential candidate himself - when he took the stage, he immediately warned about the threat of white supremacy. He directed his comments explicitly at President Trump. Let's take a listen to what he had to say.


JOE BIDEN: Mr. President, it's long past time you stood up to it. Mr. President, it's long past time you addressed it for what it is. This is hatred, pure and simple. And it's being fueled by rhetoric that is so divisive, and it's causing people to die.

SHAPIRO: And, Asma, of course, one of the attacks occurred in El Paso, Texas, home to former Congressman Beto O'Rourke, also a candidate for president. O'Rourke has been very outspoken after these attacks. What has he said?

KHALID: I mean, it's very personal for him. He's an El Paso native. And, you know, like a lot of other 2020 candidates, he was very quick to call for universal background checks, to have some sort of gun control legislation. But what was new-ish (ph) is that after this attack, the criticism was not just about guns. It wasn't about banning assault weapons solely. It was also about white supremacy.

Here's O'Rourke on CNN's "State Of The Union."


BETO O'ROURKE: We've got to acknowledge the hatred, the open racism that we're seeing. There's an environment of it in the United States. We see it on Fox News. We see it on the Internet. We also see it from our commander in chief. And he is encouraging this. He doesn't just tolerate it. He encourages it.

SHAPIRO: Sounds like this has been a common critique. Who else is speaking in this way?

KHALID: Yeah, pretty much almost everyone, Ari. I mean, it was incredibly common. In public events and on TV, we heard several candidates blame the president for creating what they say is a culture of bigotry. The mayor of South Bend, Ind., Pete Buttigieg, says the country is under attack from domestic terrorism.


PETE BUTTIGIEG: White nationalism is evil, and it is inspiring people to commit murder. And it is being condoned at the highest levels of the American government.

KHALID: And, Ari, he pointed out that if these shootings were happening at the hands of, say, Muslim terrorists, that there would not be the same kind of foot-dragging in Washington to do something.

SHAPIRO: And speaking of Washington, many of these candidates are currently senators. The Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, has called on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the Senate back from its August recess to take up gun control legislation. Talk about the political dynamic there.

KHALID: Well, earlier this year, the House passed a bill that would require universal background checks. The Senate has yet to take up any of the legislation that the House has passed on guns.

Candidates like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, as well as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, were also calling on McConnell to bring the Senate back from recess to take up a vote here. The president himself, in his remarks that he made this morning, did not call for stricter background checks or any sort of change around gun legislation. Instead, he made this a conversation around mental health and hatred.

The message, though, from 2020 candidates is that voters need to change the current political dynamics. And Senator Warren sent out an email this morning, saying that, you know, Democrats need to elect other Democrats in the Senate to change this. And Senator Kamala Harris reiterated a promise that she has made that if Congress does not act within the first 100 days of her administration, she, as a president, would take unilateral action on guns.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Asma Khalid covering the 2020 presidential campaign.

Thank you.

KHALID: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.