Orlando Shooting Gets Pulled Into The National Political Spotlight

Jun 15, 2016
Originally published on June 16, 2016 1:49 pm
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

President Obama let Donald Trump have it yesterday for Trump's comments about Muslims in the wake of the attack on a gay club in Orlando. Obama didn't name him, but he didn't have to.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We now have proposals from the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States to bar all Muslims from emigrating to America. We hear language that singles out immigrants and suggests entire religious communities are complicit in violence. Where does this stop?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK, pretty harsh comments from the sitting U.S. president about the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, the president speaking after meeting with his National Security Council. Now, in an appearance in Pittsburgh at almost the same time, Hillary Clinton echoed Obama's words about the Orlando attack.

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HILLARY CLINON: Just one day after the massacre, he went on TV and suggested that President Obama is on the side of the terrorists. Even in a time of divided politics, this is way beyond anything that should be said by someone running for president of the United States.

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MONTAGNE: And in response to the president's attacks on him, Donald Trump hit back last night at a rally in Greensboro, N.C.

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DONALD TRUMP: And I watched President Obama today. And he was more angry at me than he was at the shooter. One of the folks on television said boy, has Trump gotten under his skin. That's the kind of anger he should have for the shooter and these killers that shouldn't be here.

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MONTAGNE: That's Donald Trump last night. And joining us now is NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Well, tell us more about that Donald Trump rally. We - you know, you could hear the crowd booing, obviously, when he mentioned Obama.

LIASSON: Well, this really was an extraordinary day in an election that's already busted conventional wisdom at every turn. Last night, Donald Trump said that Islamic terrorism was an existential threat to the U.S. He said that terrorism would wipe out the United States. And he blamed Muslim immigrants for this. He said this is worse than the Trojan horse. And he asked the classic question, are you safer now than you were eight years ago?

So just days after the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, you have President Obama injecting himself more forcefully than any president ever has at this point in an election. You have just the day before Donald Trump saying that the president should resign and suggesting, as you just heard, that he was somehow sympathetic with terrorists. So you now have Trump, who hasn't even finished unifying his own party, running against a tag team, two opponents essentially, Present Obama and Hillary Clinton.

MONTAGNE: And Mara, President Obama also called out other Republicans yesterday. And he - for instance, he mentioned Trump's proposal to bar Muslim immigrants, saying do Republican officials actually agree with this? What's been the reaction?

LIASSON: Republicans, I think, are now resigned to the fact that there will be no presidential pivot from Donald Trump. And they're reacting with various degrees of horror and disappointment. No Republican senator stood up to defend Trump yesterday. He's essentially a one-man band on this with the exception of surrogates like Chris Christie or Rudy Giuliani. And Paul Ryan, who is the highest-ranking Republican in government, again yesterday had to express his disagreement with Trump on this. And here's what Ryan said.

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PAUL RYAN: This is a war with radical Islam. It's not a war with Islam. Muslims are our partners. The vast, vast majority of Muslims in this country and around the world are moderate. They're peaceful. They're tolerant. And so they're among our best allies.

LIASSON: I have something to say out of this.

MONTAGNE: And...

LIASSON: You know, Trump is putting Republicans like Ryan in a really difficult position. They may disagree with him on this, but they still want him to be the president. And President Obama and Hillary Clinton are trying to make that balancing act as untenable as possible.

MONTAGNE: And Mara, this election has taken something - quite a turn, really, you could say, in the last few days. I mean, of course immigration has always been a big issue. But also, the economy was a big issue, and it seems to have gone away for the moment.

LIASSON: Well, for the moment, that's true. National security is now dominating the campaign, how to protect Americans against terror, against homegrown terror. In the past, national security issues always are an advantage for Republicans. But polls on this are mixed right now. The latest Wall Street Journal poll gave Republicans their traditional advantage on which party would do better fighting ISIS. But that same poll, 37 percent said Hillary Clinton would be better handling an international crisis. And only 20 percent chose Trump.

So she's trying to make up Trump's temperament the main issue, saying he's too erratic and vindictive to be commander in chief. He's saying her judgment makes her unqualified. We also have some new national polls that show Clinton moving ahead of Trump. But we don't have polling that shows how Orlando has affected this race yet. We do know that during the Republican primaries after the Paris attacks, after the San Bernardino attacks, Trump's numbers did go up.

MONTAGNE: Now, the Democratic primary is officially over, final votes cast yesterday there in Washington, D.C. Bernie Sanders met with Hillary Clinton after those D.C. polls closed. What do you know about that meeting?

LIASSON: Well, what we know about that meeting is that no endorsement is forthcoming. It sounds like from the statement of the Sanders campaign that's going to take more than one meeting. Sanders has said he wants to see where Clinton is on his issues, on his proposals for reforming the Democratic Party nominating process before he endorses her.

Hillary Clinton would very much like Sanders' endorsement. She needs his voters in the fall, particularly young people. For the moment, Orlando has made Sanders a little bit more of an asterisk in terms of the discussion about terrorism. But Sanders will be very, very important to the Democrats' efforts to beat Donald Trump in the fall.

MONTAGNE: So Sanders, presumably, still sticking to going to the convention.

LIASSON: Still sticking to going to the convention, no signs that he's going to endorse before July.

MONTAGNE: Mara, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.