WASHINGTON — Sen. Cory Booker placed blame on President Donald Trump and his racist rhetoric for a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, that left at least 20 people dead.
The shooting is being investigated as an act of domestic terror and a hate crime after officials said that they believed, but have not confirmed, a manifesto filled with anti-immigrant and white supremacist language was posted online and written by the gunman.
“I think, at the end of the day, especially because this was a white supremacist manifesto, that I want to say with more moral clarity that Donald Trump is responsible for this. He is responsible because he is stoking fears and hatred and bigotry,” Booker said on CNN’s State of the Union.
The New Jersey senator, who is running for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, went on to say Trump is to blame because he’s “failing to condemn white supremacy” or to do anything significant to stop the availability of weapons.
Officials named Patrick Crusius, a 21-year-old from Allen, Texas, as the suspect. Later, the Justice Department announced it is treating the shooting as a “domestic terrorism” case but was working on the investigation with an eye toward federal hate crime and firearms charges.
Booker was not the only 2020 Democratic candidate to blame Trump for inciting violence and sowing divisions.
Former Texas representative Beto O’Rourke said Sunday that Trump had “a lot to do with what happened in El Paso.”
"Anybody who begins their campaign for the presidency by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals; anyone who, as president, describes asylum-seekers at the US–Mexico border as an infestation or an invasion or animals; anyone who describes those who do not match the majority of this country as somehow inherently dangerous or defective, sows the kinds of fear, the kind of reaction, that we saw in El Paso yesterday," he said on CBS’s Face the Nation.
O’Rourke was the first to speak out against the president, leaving the campaign trail to return to his hometown, and also canceled campaign events until Monday after Saturday’s shooting.
O’Rourke responded “Yes, I do,” when CNN asked if the candidate thinks Trump is a white nationalist. O’Rourke also talked about the president’s “rapists” references when speaking of undocumented Mexicans.
“The things that he has said both as a candidate and then as the president of the United States, this cannot be open for debate.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders began a Sunday town hall meeting at Cheyenne High School in North Las Vegas in shock.
"Unbelievably, yesterday we had a town meeting in downtown Las Vegas. At the beginning of that town meeting, I asked for a moment of silence so that we can think about and pray for the victims, the 20 dead, from the shooting in El Paso, and it never occurred to me that one day later, we would have to do that again because of a mass killing in Dayton," he said.
The Vermont senator called for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to end the Senate's recess and begin a special session on gun violence.
"We have got to, in my view, finally ban the sale and distribution of assault weapons, which are designed for one reason — they are military weapons," he said, among other proposals, like expanding background checks. "I don’t have to explain that to the people of Las Vegas, who experienced the worst gun tragedy in the history of this country — they are designed to kill human beings in a very, very rapid way."
Sanders, too, pointed to Trump. "Lastly, I say to President Trump: Please stop the racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric. Stop the hatred in this country, which is creating the kind of violence that we see not just in Dayton, not just in El Paso, but in Charleston and Pittsburgh. Our job is to bring our people together, not to divide them up," he said. "We have, sadly, too many grave people in this country, too many, and they do not need any kind of signals from the White House to encourage them to do horrific things."
South Bend, Indiana, mayor and presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg said Trump condones and encourages white nationalism and that it has “flourished under his watch.”
Another Democratic candidate, former housing secretary Julián Castro, also turned to the president, saying Trump is “fanning the flames of division” and that he has failed to unite people of different backgrounds.
"Most presidents have chosen to bring people together," Castro told ABC's This Week. "This president very early on made the choice to divide people for his own political benefit, and these are some of the consequences we're seeing of that."
Ryan C. Brooks reported from Las Vegas.