U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine called white supremacism an “evil” and Democrats pushed for action on gun control as a top aide to President Donald Trump on Sunday defended him after mass shootings in El Paso and Ohio.
It came as Democrats argued that Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric about immigrants and people of color has fueled the type of hatred on display in a manifesto that investigators believe was posted online by the El Paso shooting suspect, which listed angry — and, at times, jumbled — motivations for the attack, including rants about a “Hispanic invasion.”
Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat who is running for president and lives in El Paso, said on the same show that Trump “doesn’t just tolerate — he encourages the type of open racism” and violence that follows.
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney on Sunday defended the Republican president after the shootings on Sunday, calling the shooters in Texas and Dayton, Ohio “sick people” and disputing that either shooting was linked to politics.
Mulvaney suggested Sunday that the White House is willing to reopen the debate on gun control in the wake of the shootings, but he was defiant in pushing back against critics who argue that Trump has played a role in inciting hatred, noting that the writer of the manifesto made clear that his views about Latino immigrants predate Trump.
“If you actually go and look at it, what the guy says is he’s felt this way a long time before Donald Trump got elected president,” Mulvaney said.
The acting White House chief of staff also disputed that Trump has played down the threat of white nationalism. In March, after the mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which 51 Muslims were killed, Trump said he did not believe white nationalism was a growing global danger.
“I don’t really,” the president said when asked at the White House whether white nationalists posed an increasing menace. “I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. It’s certainly a terrible thing.”
In a Sunday statement, Collins, a Republican, noted reports of the El Paso shooter’s ideology, calling bigotry and white supremacism an “evil” that is “a threat to the fabric of our society.”
“The vast majority of Americans care deeply about their friends, families, and neighbors,” Collins said. “We have united in the wake of tragedies in the past, and we can do so again to stop this violence.”
Some Democrats said on Sunday that Trump’s rhetoric on immigrants and minorities has inspired domestic terrorism against those communities. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, told CNN that it was “clear” that white supremacists “feel empowered” by the president’s tone.
Other Democrats called for action on gun control. The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill to require background checks before gun sales between individuals. Maine’s Democratic U.S. representatives split on it, with Chellie Pingree of the 1st District backing it and Jared Golden of the 2nd District opposing it.
A version of the bill hasn’t advanced to a vote in the Republican-led Senate. Pingree said in a statement that was “absolutely unacceptable.” U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said on Twitter he was “so sick” of how common mass shootings have become and “we must examine and address the underlying causes.”
Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, one of the five Democrats running for the nomination to face Collins in 2020, tweeted that the senator should ask Republican leaders to “bring the Senate back to Washington to take action” on gun legislation.
“We must take action to institute tough, common sense gun laws,” tweeted Betsy Sweet, a Hallowell lobbyist who is also among the Senate field, after the El Paso shooting on Saturday. “When I’m in the Senate, we will.”
BDN writer Michael Shepherd and Washington Post writer Robert Moore contributed to this report.