The White House hit back Tuesday at Democratic presidential candidates who have faulted President Trump’s rhetoric and even branded him a racist in the wake of the weekend's back-to-back mass shootings, accusing them of grandstanding while doing little to solve the problem.
Counselor Kellyanne Conway, in an interview on "Fox & Friends," said Trump is “trying to bring the country together and heal a nation.” And she slammed Democrats for fundraising off the shootings that left 31 people dead.
“There is a huge difference ... between running your mouth and running for president, and being the president and trying to bring together a nation,” Conway said on “Fox & Friends.” “The president did not respond in kind. They politicized this over the weekend. They all blamed him and I want to name and shame them now. ... They want to be president? He is the president. And he is trying to bring the country together and have bipartisan, bicameral steps.”
The comments amount to the toughest response yet from a White House that has been bludgeoned by Democratic candidates and lawmakers after the El Paso and Dayton shootings. Some urged the president not to visit El Paso (which he plans to do), while others ripped his Monday statement on the tragedy as weak and even helped pressure The New York Times to revise a front-page headline that did not sufficiently challenge Trump's call for unity.
Beto O'Rourke was among the presidential candidates who unleashed on the president Monday, in part faulting his rhetoric.
"Jesus Christ, of course he’s racist," O'Rourke told MSNBC.
On Tuesday, Conway reserved choice words in response to O'Rourke.
“Beto O’Rourke—from the Vanity Fair magazine cover to the vanity project candidacy—out there screaming and cursing about President Trump. That doesn’t heal a single soul. That doesn’t help to prevent another mass shooting,” she said.
Conway also noted that Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was “raising money” for Senate Democratic candidates “in an email appeal talking about mass shootings.”
“This is a disgrace and if no one else is going to talk about it, I’m going to talk about it,” Conway said.
Warren, this week, sent an email to supporters requesting they contribute money to Sens. Doug Jones, D-Ala., and Tina Smith, D-Minn., for their Senate campaigns, among other candidates. The Democratic National Committee also sent an email to supporters, signed by former Rep. Gabby Giffords, encouraging donors to “split” a donation between the DNC and Giffords' PAC, which was launched after she survived an assassination attempt in 2011.
Conway alleged a double standard as she sought to draw a comparison between Republicans' handling of gun violence versus Democrats'. Conway specifically referenced the 2017 congressional baseball practice shooting, which left then-House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., in critical condition. That shooting was carried out by someone who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., during the 2016 election.
“When Bernie Sanders’ supporter ... shot up Steve Scalise who was within inches of his life, and others on that baseball field two years ago, we didn’t run out and say that he was hunting down Republicans and that he was a Bernie Sanders supporter,” Conway said. “We were worried about Steve Scalise’s life being saved. That was absolutely the darkest day in this White House in its first year in my opinion.”
Conway added a more recent example, when “some evil, twisted, depraved lunatic was trying” to attack an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Washington state last month. Conway said the attacker was “quoting the exact language” that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., had been using.
“We didn’t blame her,” Conway said.
Referring to former President Barack Obama's comments on the weekend shootings, Conway also said: “No one blamed him for Newtown, Conn., and he had his opportunity to go heal the nation.”
Democratic critics, though, have focused their criticism on two main areas: Trump's rhetoric and the lack of sweeping action on gun control.
They were particularly critical of Trump for mostly avoiding the topic of guns during his remarks Monday. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., blasted him for saying mental illness and hate, not the gun, "pulls the trigger."
On Twitter, she said the line was Trump's "dodge to avoid truth: there’s mental illness&hate throughout world, but U.S. stands alone w/high rate of gun violence."
But Conway touted the president’s record on gun measures, noting that last year, he ordered a ban on bump stocks and “all devices” that otherwise turn legal weapons into “illegal machine guns,” and signed a law in 2018 that strengthened the federal background check system and increased federal agency sharing into the system.
Among his list of proposals, Trump called for changes to mental health laws "to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence," adding that we must "make sure those people not only get treatment but when necessary, involuntary confinement."
He also called for so-called “red flag” laws to take guns from those deemed a public risk. And he unequivocally denounced white supremacy, responding to reports that the shooter in El Paso wrote a racist manifesto.
“He’s denouncing white supremacy, and they’re out there denouncing him,” Conway said Tuesday. “America, take a look, and don’t forget it.”