Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke directly called out President Donald Trump, blaming his anti-immigrant, racist rhetoric for sparking violence like the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday that killed at least 20 people. When O’Rourke, who halted his campaign to return to his hometown of El Paso after the shooting, was asked whether Trump’s rhetoric could in some part be blamed for the mass shooting, he paused for a second before answering, “Yes.”
“We’ve had a rise in hate crimes every single one of the last three years during an administration where you’ve had a president who’s called Mexicans ‘rapists’ and ‘criminals,’ though Mexican immigrants commit crimes at a far lower rate than those born here in the country. He has tried to make us afraid of them,” O’Rourke told reporters after meeting with victims at a hospital in El Paso. “He is a racist, and he stokes racism in this country, and it does not offend our sensibilities, it fundamentally changes the character of this country and it leads to violence.”
O’Rourke seemed to try to preempt those who say it’s too soon after a tragedy to talk about politics by adding that victims were asking politicians to take action against gun crimes. But changing gun laws won’t be enough, the former lawmaker said. “Yes, it’s the gun laws. Yes, it’s the universal background checks. And yes, we should stop selling weapons of war into our communities. But I think we also have to confront this hatred that I have never seen in my lifetime,” he said. “And we certainly have not seen in El Paso.”
Earlier in the day, O’Rourke choked back tears as he reacted to news of the shooting. “We know there has been a lot of injury, a lot of suffering in El Paso right now,” O’Rourke said in Las Vegas. “I am incredibly sad, and it is very hard to think about this.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren was the first of the Democratic contenders to respond to O’Rourke and offer her condolences via Twitter. “I’m so grateful that everyone on your team is safe and accounted for. My staff and I are mourning with you for your friends and neighbors,” Warren wrote in response to an O’Rourke tweet on the shooting.