Trump Stays On Campaign Trail, Attacking Media And Democrats After Synagogue Shooting
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
President Trump will travel to Pittsburgh tomorrow. At today's White House briefing, press secretary Sarah Sanders condemned anti-Semitism and said the hatred must stop. Critics of the president say his campaign rhetoric is raising tensions and widening divisions, even as the country is still reeling from the Pittsburgh attack and from the arrest of a Trump supporter believed to have sent pipe bombs to Democrats and critics of the president. NPR's Ayesha Rascoe is at the White House, and she joins us now to talk through all this.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hello.
KELLY: So the White House is, of course, aware of criticism of the president's words. How are they responding?
RASCOE: Not surprisingly, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders is defending the president. She says he is working to unite the country and that he is showing leadership. Here's some more of what she had to say at the briefing today.
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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think the president has had a number of moments of bringing the country together. Once again, I'll remind you that the very first thing...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: But when did he say those words (ph)?
SANDERS: ...The president did was condemn the attacker. And the very...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The second thing he did was...
SANDERS: ...First thing the media did was blame the president.
RASCOE: She's really going on the offensive here. She's saying that 90 percent of the news coverage of the president is negative, even though the country is doing well, and that the media bears responsibility for the divisions in the country. And she's basically arguing that the president is going to defend himself. He's going to highlight these differences between him and his opponents and against the media. And she's - the White House is really doubling down on this rhetoric, even after these improvised explosives were sent to CNN last week. What Sanders is saying is that the president can't be held responsible for the actions of another person who he doesn't know personally.
KELLY: The thing is, Ayesha, whether you like the president's language, whether you hate the president's language, he has been consistent. This is who he is. So is there something different about the way it's resonating this time?
RASCOE: It really seems to be about the timing. You have these kind of back-to-back events happening right before a critical election. Trump is not known for being able to play this role of the consoler in chief or certainly not the uniter in chief. That's not a natural fit for him. And basically, what he has done is when something's happened, he says something directly after the tragedy that is expected. But after his call for unity on Saturday after the synagogue shooting, he held a campaign event where he went back to making personal attacks. He called out Elizabeth Warren using this belittling nickname for her.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He says call her Pocahontas. I can't do it. She doesn't have any Indian blood. I have more than she does, and I have none.
RASCOE: And since that rally on Twitter, he's once again denouncing the press as the enemy of the people and calling out the Democrat running for governor in Florida, Andrew Gillum, calling him a thief without evidence. In many ways, like you said, this is what his supporters likely expect from him. But what his critics will argue is that going after people so personally - and not just saying they're bad on taxes or something like that - is that it's inflammatory and that there are consequences to that.
KELLY: Well, you mentioned the midterm. What might the consequences be in the midterm? What difference might the president's rhetoric make?
RASCOE: It's very hard to tell. People's views of Trump seem to be pretty hardened at this point. So you really don't know whether this is going to change any votes. The risk, of course, is that maybe some lukewarm supporters of Trump could be turned off by the negativity or that his opponents could get really fired up. But we'll just have to see what happens next week.
KELLY: That's NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe reporting from the White House.
RASCOE: Thank you.
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