'This Week' Transcript 8-4-19: Mick Mulvaney, Rep. Veronica Escobar, Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro and Beto O'Rourke
This is a rush transcript for "This Week" airing Sunday, August 4.
A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, August 4, 2019 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the "This Week" transcript archive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: THIS WEEK with George Stephanopoulos starts right now.
JONATHAN KARL, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Massacre in America. Two mass shootings just hours apart.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Run, Mika, run.
KARL: At least 20 killed and 26 wounded in an attack on the Hispanic community of El Paso.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He starts pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.
KARL: And breaking overnight, another mass shooting, this one in Dayton, Ohio. We'll have the latest on both attacks. Congresswoman Veronica Escobar of El Paso joins us along with the two Texans running for president.
BETO O’ROURKE, 2020 DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is not normal. It is not acceptable. We cannot just move on from this.
KARL: Beto O'Rourke and Julian Castro join us from their home state. What motivated the shooters? Who were their targets? Can a nation so divided find a way to stop this senseless, shocking violence? And what will the president do in the wake of these mass shootings on his watch? We'll take these questions to acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney here in a Sunday exclusive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From ABC News, it's THIS WEEK. Here now, Chief White House Correspondent, Jonathan Karl.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: Good morning, and welcome to “This Week.” It's difficult to find the words to describe this moment in time. I could rattle off the sickening statistics about gun violence in America. Over the last five years we have endured 5 of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern American history. I could list the cities and towns now synonymous with tragedy. We've heard all of that before, after Newtown and Sutherland Springs, and Parkland, Charleston, Orlando, and Pittsburgh, after Aurora, Virginia Tech and Columbine, Pearl and Paducah. The condemnation, the calls to action, the thoughts and prayers and the horror coming again.
This is a uniquely American problem. Words don't do justice to the pain and the fear and the anger and the frustration these attacks cause. We don't know what to say to make sense of what happened or to get us closer to a solution, so we will start with what we do know, the facts on the ground at this hour. Over the past 24 hours, two more American cities were added to that terrible list. Overnight, nine human beings were shot and killed in Dayton, Ohio, more than a dozen hospitalized. The shooter there died at the scene.
That horror came less than 12 hours after a Wal-Mart in El Paso was turned into a war zone. A lone gunman stormed the crowded store, killing 20 people, wounding more than two dozen others. That shooter was taken into custody. We'll know soon whether authorities will call this shooting a hate crime, but this much is already perfectly clear. This was an attack on the Hispanic community. This Wal-Mart is popular with Mexican immigrants and Mexican citizens who cross the border to do their shopping. In fact, on a clear day, you can see into Mexico from the parking lot. I'm joined by ABC's Chief Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas here in the studio, but I want to begin with Marcus Moore who is on the scene by that Wal-Mart. Good morning, Marcus.
MARCUS MOORE, CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Jon, good morning. It is striking when you look at the parking lot in the distance behind me. That Wal-Mart parking lot full of cars, and this scene really is almost just as it was on Saturday morning when police say a 21-year-old Patrick Crusius opened fire on innocent people. We know this morning that there were between 1,000 and 3,000 people inside the store at the time and the first reports of the shooting came in at about 10:39 on Saturday morning. And police say the suspect walked up to the front of the store and continued aiming that gun at people and continuing to shoot.
This massacre went on for a whole six minutes before police arrived on the scene. And we know this morning that at least 20 people were killed and 26 others were hurt. Crusius was taken into custody without incident and allegedly told police that he wanted to kill as many Mexicans as possible. That's according to law enforcement officials speaking with ABC News. And we know that this morning investigators are looking at whether an online posting that the police chief here in El Paso has described as a manifesto is connected. The suspect is from Allen, Texas, which is about a 10-hour drive from El Paso, 600 miles.
And one of the critical questions, Jon, this morning is what is the suspect's connection with El Paso and more importantly this morning, what would cause him to allegedly open fire on dozens of innocent people here in El Paso. Jon.
KARL: Just -- just horrific and happening as that Wal-Mart was packed with back to school shoppers. Marcus, thank you. Pierre, what -- what is the -- what do you know about the FBI investigation? Are they ready to call this a hate crime?
PIERRE THOMAS, CHIEF JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Jonathan, right now they're in the process of dissecting this man's life. They're trying to get any computers, tablets, cell phones to look through his social media account. They're increasingly confident that this document that was posted on social media in the hours before the shooting is tied to the suspect. In that document, he expresses great hatred toward immigrants. And we're being told by our sources that when he was captured by police he told them he wanted to kill, quote, as many Mexicans as he could.
KARL: Doesn't sound like you need much more to call it a hate crime.
THOMAS: Exactly, exactly.
KARL: So tell me, bring me up to speed on what we know about the shooter and the shooting in Dayton.
THOMAS: Just another horrific scenario. Just after 1:00 a.m. a lone gunman walks into theentertainment district, which is full of bars and clubs, people out having a good time. He starts shooting, kills 9 people, Jonathan. And we're also being told that he came prepared to kill. He was wearing body armor.
KARL: Any indication yet that he was in any way responding to what happened in El Paso?
THOMAS: We don't know just yet what the cause, what the motivation was. It's in the early hours of this investigation. But I can tell you, law enforcement has been concerned that these types of incidents can cause copycats.
KARL: Body armor, all right.
All right, Pierre, thank you. We're going to be back with you shortly with more.
Joining us now, Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton.
Mayor Whaley, I'm so sorry to be talking to you under these circumstances. What can you tell us about the victims?
MAYOR NAN WHALEY, DAYTON, OHIO: Well, we're not releasing any of the names of the victims at this time. We had 10 fatalities, including the shooter and 26 people sent to multiple hospitals. What I'm most amazed by is that from the time the shooting happened, in under a minute, the Dayton Police Department had the situation under control. And what's scary about that is that if they were not there, the hundreds of lost lives that we would have had in the Oregon District.
This is a safe area of the city where thousands of people come every evening to enjoy with friends and young people. It's one of the most diverse parts of Dayton, and we have to start asking the question of why is Dayton the 250th mass shooting this year in our country.
KARL: And this attack happened after 1:00 a.m. We've seen the reports that the shooter was wearing body armor. Do you have any indication what could have motivated this?
WHALEY: We do not know at this time.
KARL: Anything more on the shooter: who, where he came from?
WHALEY: No. We haven't released the name of the shooter at this time. We'll be doing that, more information as the day goes on. Right now I ask for folks that are watching this to be thoughtful of the people in the city of Dayton who woke up this morning and lost a loved one.
KARL: And have you been in touch with federal authorities?
WHALEY: The police department has been in touch with the FBI. And they've been helpful.
KARL: Mayor Whaley of Dayton, thank you for joining us.
WHALEY: Thank you.
KARL: Turning back to the massacre in El Paso, I'm joined now by Congresswoman Veronica Escobar whose district includes that Wal-Mart.
Congresswoman, my condolences to the entire El Paso community, thank you for joining us.
REP. VERONICA ESCOBAR, (D) TEXAS: Thank you, Jon.
KARL: We know that 20 people were killed in this horror, but also more than two dozen wounded. What more can you tell us about those victims?
ESCOBAR: The victims, Jon, range in age from 2 years old to senior citizens. In fact, the 2-year-old who survived and is recovering, is recovering from broken bones because his mother, a young mother, 25-year-old mother, who was shot multiple times and killed, used her body to shield him and save his life.
So the survivors include that 2-year-old. And many people are still fighting for their lives, and I'm so grateful not just to the first responders, but to those surgeons, those nurses, all the staff in the hospitals who have been working tirelessly to keep our families and friends alive.
KARL: Authorities are investigating what we're told is a possible hate crime. It sure looks like that's what it is. What more can you tell us about the investigation, what we know about the killer?
ESCOBAR: Well, we know that he is 21 years old, and that he came from outside of El Paso to do us harm.
You know this -- Jon, El Paso is a very safe community. We have been one of the safest communities in the nation for decades. We are a warm, loving, compassionate, binational community.
We love, celebrate and embrace our diversity, our location on the U.S.-Mexico border. And this individual came not from within the community, but outside of it.
And so I feel it's important to make sure that the investigation go on without my -- without me commenting on it or making certain assumptions.
But I will tell you, in this country, we have a gun violence epidemic, but we also have a hate epidemic. And until we confront that hate, and until we confront the weak gun laws that we have, we're going to keep seeing this. And the families in this community deserve better. The families in every community in America deserve better.
KARL: Help us understand this area. Help us understand specifically this mall, this Walmart. Who was there? Who -- tell us about this store.
ESCOBAR: Yes. This is a store that is located kind of in the center of the community. And it is one of the busiest Walmarts in the community. It was busy because school is getting ready to get started, so there were a lot of parents, grandparents, children who were there shopping for school supplies.
It's the store that my mom shops at. She lives just blocks away. It's the store that my family and I shop at. And so there's no surprise that it was very, very busy. It was a typical Saturday, people just going about their business.
It also is a store where a lot of our neighbors and friends and family members from across the border come to shop.
We are, again, a binational community, where we are one region separated by a river, but where we share family roots, history, tradition, economies in many respects.
And so this -- the fact that this store was targeted, I believe, was not coincidental.
KARL: How concerned are you about immigrants in your district who may be afraid to report crimes, or report warnings out of fears of what the president's talked about, stepping up deportations?
ESCOBAR: You know, I'm scared for immigrants across this country and for immigrants in my community as well.
But here's one thing, Jon, that we have in El Paso that makes us very special. We have local law enforcement that has traditionally, for years and years and years, engaged in positive community engagement, positive, basically, community policing, where they have worked for years, decades to build relationships with everyone, regardless of status, because we all know and recognize here locally that, in order to be a safe community, we have to treat people with dignity and respect.
We want people to report crimes. We want people to be witnesses in -- on -- in criminal trials. We want people to feel safe.
And so we have a very different philosophy in El Paso from the philosophy that emanates from the White House. We embrace one another and take care of one another.
KARL: Congresswoman Escobar, thank you for joining us on this horrible, horrible day.
President Trump responded to the shooting in El Paso on Twitter, calling it an act of cowardice, adding: "I know I stand with everyone in this country to condemn today's hateful act. There are no reasons or excuses that will ever justify killing innocent people."
For more on the White House response, let's bring in acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
Welcome to "This Week," Mr. Mulvaney.
I understand the president's been briefed on both of these shootings. What can you tell us about what more he has learned?
MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Yes, Jon, I talked to the president, obviously, yesterday at some length after the shooting in El Paso and very early this morning again on the tragedy at Dayton.
You know, he's a human being. And I think his reaction is the same as most folks watching this program, which was, he's a combination of saddened by this and he's angry about it.
The first call, he talked to the governor of Texas yesterday. He's talked to the governor of Ohio this morning.
But I will tell you, the first call he made yesterday was to the attorney general to find out what we could do to prevent this type of thing from happening, what we could do to send a message to the people, the sick people who would do this kind of stuff that this is not -- this is not appropriate.
This is not -- this is way beyond the pale. These are sick people. And we need to figure out what we can do to make sure this doesn't happen again.
KARL: We see 20 killed in El Paso. And now we heard, just heard from the mayor of Dayton that the death toll there has gone up to 10.
This -- these are both just the latest in a string of mass shootings since the president was inaugurated. We have seen Virginia Beach, Thousand Oaks, California, Tree of Life Synagogue, Parkland, and of course the massacre in -- in Las Vegas. What is he doing? You -- and I understand he’s called the attorney general --
KARL: -- but this has been going -- but what is he doing to stop these -- these killings, these mass shootings?
MULVANEY: Well face it, you -- you make an excellent point there, which is this -- this -- this cancer, this difficulty that we face as a nation predates this administration by many, many years. What can you do? You have to try and fix the society, right? You have to figure out why people now take it upon themselves to take guns into large groups of people. It's happened for -- for many decades now. We have to figure out a way to heal the nation. I've talked to several folks this morning about what they thought we should be focusing on this week in the White House and certainly we'll be talking to the FBI, certainly we’ll be talking to the Department of Justice.
We also need to start talking about social media. In your -- in your introduction you mentioned that the -- the shooter had his manifesto on social media. We've given a wide audience to these people, we've made them celebrities, we've allowed them to spew their hate without any restrictions whatsoever. I’m not saying we're going to regulate social media, I'm saying we have to have a broad-based discussion about the causes here. Are we going to talk about the role of -- of guns? Certainly we are. But to think that -- that this is just a gun issue that many people make it out to be is -- is not right. We've had guns in this country for -- for hundreds of years.
We haven't had this until recently and we need to figure out why.
KARL: But -- but let's look at the gun issue for a moment, because after Parkland the president said that he was considering a ban on assault weapons, he talked about universal background checks, and then, as you know, he met with Chris Cox of the National Rifle Association, those ideas went away. Are those ideas back on the table for the president? Is he willing to now look at a ban on assault weapons?
MULVANEY: In fairness, Jon, those ideas did not go away. This administration banned bump stocks. Remember --
MULVANEY: -- automatic weapons in this country are illegal, semiautomatic are not. There was a device that could easily turn a semiautomatic weapon into an automatic weapon and this administration -- without Congress, this administration banned those things. We also signed with Congress bipartisan legislation to fix the background check system. The background check system was broken. Go back to the Charleston shooting that I’m very familiar with, a gentleman who bought that gun and committed that heinous act should not have been able to buy that gun but did because the background check system was broken.
And we signed legislation to do that and are improving that. So no, I don’t think it’s fair to say that all those things were off the table. In fact, this administration --
KARL: Well, I --
MULVANEY: -- has made some sensible improvements --
KARL: Mick, I -- I just mentioned two big ones that the president said he was looking at right after Parkland, a ban on assault weapons -- not the bump stocks issue, which is much narrower -- a ban on assault weapons and universal background checks. Are those ideas back on the table?
MULVANEY: Background -- we could always -- listen, if there’s -- if we can agree on one thing as a nation, Democrat, Republican, Independent, I don't care, it is that crazy people like this should not have been able to get guns. And in fairness, I don't think we know if the -- the -- the people involved in the shootings, the shooters over the last 24 hours, acquired their guns legally or illegally. I think we all agree that sick people who are intent on doing things like this should not be able to buy guns legally. The challenge of course is trying to identify who is sick when they try and buy their weapons, and that's the type of discussion we have to have.
But I -- I -- go back to the thing about assault -- assault rifles. Again, military automatic weapons are already against the law in this nation. And the things that could turn regular legal weapons into illegal weapons have been banned by this administration. So I don't think it's fair to say the president hasn't followed through on some of his promises.
KARL: We've heard Beto O'Rourke say that the president's rhetoric is fueling more hate in this country. The president has used, as you well know, words like invasion to talk about illegal immigrants. He did -- he tweeted at the -- at those four progressive congresswoman, all -- all women of color, saying they should go back to their countries. Isn't this kind of rhetoric and especially in light of what we've just seen, isn't it just dangerous?
MULVANEY: Let's not lose sight of the fact that Beto O'Rourke, a former colleague of mine, who I hold in high regard, is running for president and the -- to the extent he can make this an issue, he's going to. So here's the question you could ask Beto -- and I would if he were sitting here. It’s a fair question I think to ask. Which is, look, did anyone blame Bernie Sanders for the Congressional baseball game shooting? No, I don't think so. Did anyone blame Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for the gentleman -- gentleman -- for the crazy guy who tried to blow up the DHS office in Washington state, taking I think a homemade bomb and an AR-15 to shoot up what he called a concentration camp, the exact same rhetoric that AOC was using? Did anybody blame her?
Look, there’s -- there's no benefit here to trying to make this a political issue. This is a social issue and we need to address it as -- as that.
KARL: But -- but you know this is more than -- than Beto O'Rourke. What do you say to Americans who look at what happened in El Paso and say that the president's rhetoric is in part to blame? What do you say to those Americans? You know there are many.
MULVANEY: The president is just as saddened by this as you are. The president is just as angry by this as you are, and wants to do something about it just as much as everybody else does.
I hate to draw attention to the manifesto, but if you actually go and look at it, what the guy says is that he's felt this way a long time before Donald Trump got elected president. This was a sick person. The person in Dayton was a sick person. No politician is to blame for that.
The people responsible here are the people who pull the trigger. We need to figure out how to create less of those kinds of people as a society and not trying to figure out who gets blamed going into the next election.
KARL: I want to read you something that George P. Bush said yesterday. He said, "there have now been multiple attacks from self-declared white terrorists here in the U.S. in the last several months. This is a real -- there's a real and present threat that we must all denounce and defeat."
Mick, why has the president downplayed the threat of white nationalism?
MULVANEY: I don't think he has. Look at what he said yesterday...
KARL: Well -- now, now, now...
MULVANEY: He condemned this without reservation whatsoever, Jon. So, I don't think that's fair to...
KARL: Wait a minute, can I read the president's words? Because back in March he was asked directly, do you see today white nationalism as a rising threat around the world? And his answer, "I don't really. I think it's a small group of people that have a very, very serious problem."
He downplayed the threat of white nationalism. Was he wrong to do that?
MULVANEY: No, I don't believe that's downplaying it. He said...
KARL: I don't really when asked if it's rising.
MULVANEY: Read the last sentence. I don't have it in front of me. This is a small group of people -- finish the sentence, or the tweet -- what did he say?
KARL: I'll read the whole thing again. He was asked directly, do you see today white nationalism as a rising threat around the world? His answer, I don't really. I think it's a small group of people that have a very, very serious problem.
MULVANEY: That's exactly -- look, this is not the same as international nuclear weapons. This is a serious problem. There's no question about it. But they are sick, sick people. And the president knows that. Again, Jon, I don't think it's fair to try and lay this at the feet of the president.
There are people in this country this morning thinking that President Trump was happy by this. That's a sad, sad state of this nation. He's angry. He's upset. He wants it to stop.
I don't think it's at all fair to sit here and say that he doesn't think that white nationalism is bad for the nation. These are sick people. You cannot be a white supremacist and be normal in the head. These are sick people. You know it, I know it, the president knows it. And this type of thing has to stop. And we have to figure out a way to fix the problem, not figure out a way to lay blame.
KARL: All right, Mick Mulvaney, acting White House Chief of Staff, thank you very much for joining us.
MULVANEY: Thanks, Jon.
KARL: Coming up, presidential candidate Julian Castro joins us with his response to the attack on his home state. We will be right back.
KARL: The tragedies of the past 24 hours are sure to dominate the conversation on the campaign trail. When we come back, former San Antonio Mayor and 2020 candidate Julian Castro is here live. Stay with us.
KARL: As we have talked about this morning, the shooting in El Paso yesterday is being investigated as a possible hate crime, a targeted attack on the Latino community.
My next guest is the only Latino running for president. Julian Castro joins us live from his hometown of San Antonio, Texas.
Good morning, Secretary Castro.
And I want to begin by asking you to respond to Mick Mulvaney. You heard him deny that the president's rhetoric is a factor at all in what happened here, that this and shootings like this are done simply by people who are sick in the head.
JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, it's so unfortunate that not only our president, but his administration can't rise up to the challenge of leadership in these times.
Anybody who has the ability to see and hear and understand what the president has been doing since he started his campaign in 2015 knows that division and bigotry and fanning the flames of hate has been his political strategy.
That's how he believed that he -- he believes that he won in 2016. And it's no accident that, just a few weeks after he announced his 2020 reelection bid, there was he indulging and entertaining this "Send her back" chant. And he's spoken about immigrants as being invaders.
He's given license for this toxic brew of white supremacy to fester more and more in this country. And we're seeing the results of that.
I do agree with this. Look, there's one person that's responsible directly for that shooting in El Paso. And that's the shooter.
At the same time, as our national leader, you have a role to play in either fanning the flames of division or trying to bring Americans of different backgrounds together.
Most presidents have chosen to try and bring people together. This president very early on made a clear choice to divide people for his own political benefit. And these are some of the consequences that we're seeing of that.
KARL: So, the FBI is still investigating the motivations here.
And they -- we heard Pierre Thomas say they have gotten closer to tying this shooter to the so-called manifesto that was published shortly before the shooting.
But what is your read? Do you have any doubt that this was a hate crime?
CASTRO: Look, the evidence that we have right now points to the idea that it was a hate crime. They're going to confirm that but it wouldn't surprise me in the least if it was. The fact that he went to a Wal-Mart where it was basically heavily Hispanic shopping base there, the people who were shopping there are overwhelmingly Latino, it's right near the Mexican border as somebody pointed out -- I think you pointed out. You can see Mexico -- literally see Mexico from the parking lot of this Wal-Mart. So this shooter must have known what he was doing. And he wasn't from El Paso. He traveled from Allen, Texas, more than nine hours away to go specifically there. There was a very Hispanic-heavy area. So it certainly looks like a hate crime. And now the important thing is what are we going to do about it?
Number one, we need leadership at every level, starting with the president, that will be big enough to try and bring people of different backgrounds together, because we know that this shooter and his bigotry does not reflect the vast majority of Americans of any background. So with leadership we can try and unite and heal our country and tamp down this kind of bigotry and acting out among a few people.
The second thing is we need to enact common sense gun reform. I just want your -- your viewers to think about this. This happened in Texas, where we have concealed carry, we have open carry, we have campus carry, we have one of the highest rates of gun ownership. That shooter knew that he was walking into a situation where a lot of folks there could be carrying a weapon. That didn't stop him. The answer is not more guns. The answer is to make sure that these weapons of war, these semiautomatic weapons, don't get into the hands of people who go and use them on the street and that we do a renewed assault weapons ban, universal background checks, red flag laws that can keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them that are going to be a danger to themselves or to somebody else, and that we limit the capacity of magazines.
In one of these situations we don't want somebody to be able to get off 25 rounds in a heartbeat.
KARL: All right. Secretary Castro, I thank you for joining us on this difficult day. Thank you. And we will be right back.
KARL: Coming up, why is white nationalism on the rise? How do we prevent these attacks? Our continuing coverage of the two back-to-back mass shootings when we come back.
KARL: Up next, our panel of experts is here with me live to discuss where we go from here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL MCGARRITY, FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERTERRORISM: There have been more arrests and deaths in the United States caused by domestic terrorists than international terrorists in recent years. Individuals affiliated with racially motivated violent extremism are responsible for the most lethal and violent activity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KARL: That's the top FBI counterterrorism official.
Joining us Pierre Thomas is back along with John Cohen, ABC News contributor and former Department of Homeland Security counterterrorism coordinator under both President Bush and President Obama, and Shannon Watts, the founder of the non-partisan group Moms Demand Action.
Pierre, I want to start with you. We see the news reports. We've become almost numb to these mass shootings, but what do the numbers show? How dramatic is the increase in these mass shootings?
THOMAS: Jonathan, something pretty horrific has been happening. The FBI began studying active shooter incidents beginning in 2000. The country used to average about six active shooter incidents per year. 2017, the last year that we have data, the number was up to 30, five times more than when they began studying the incidents.
So, if Americans have a sense that something different is going on even as the overall crime ratehas gone down, it is: more people showing up in active shooter situations.
KARL: And yet we've seen promises by political leader after political leader to deal with this problem. John Cohen, you have dealt with this issue as a federal official. You are still following it. Why are we going in the wrong direction?
JOHN COHEN, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the short answer is, Jon, that it's not a priority.
There's a lot we should be doing. There's a lot we can be doing to stop these attacks.
But it just -- those programs or those efforts are not being funded. The rhetoric behind what this administration is doing doesn't make it a priority.
And in some respects, the language and the programs that are being promoted by the administration are feeding into the threat.
KARL: Yes, how much of this is the white nationalism and extremism?
COHEN: I think it's a big part of it.
As Pierre was just suggesting, the FBI is really concerned not only about the overall increase in these types of mass shootings, but the number of mass shootings that are inspired by far-right white nationalist cause.
So, it's people who are mentally unwell, who are disaffected, who are searching for something to give themselves a sense of life meaning. They connect with a white nationalist cause or some other extremist cause, and they use that to validate their attack.
THOMAS: Jonathan, I recently went to an FBI briefing.
And they talked about, since the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre last October, that they were seeing a surge in hate crimes associated with white nationalists, information coming in from local police departments about cases that they're seeing.
So there's something afoot here. Law enforcement is extremely concerned about it. And the other thing they're concerned about, quite frankly, is the notion of copycats, that when all this type of activity is going on, people who are unstable, who have various issues see it as a time and as a chance to take action.
KARL: Shannon, this is the second mass shooting in a week involving an AK-47.
SHANNON WATTS, FOUNDER, MOMS DEMAND ACTION FOR GUN SENSE IN AMERICA: Yes.
KARL: You -- I know you have said that there's no one gun law that can stop this gun violence, but if you could see one law passed, what would it be? What is the first step that needs to be taken?
WATTS: You know, we have been trying to pass background checks, Moms Demand Action has, since 2013, right after the Sandy Hook shooting.
Manchin-Toomey would have closed that background check loophole that allows unlicensed sales.
This is an incredibly important part of the foundation of gun safety in this country, is to require a background check on every gun sale. Texas doesn't do that. Ohio doesn't do that.
The other thing that we need to do is pass a red flag law. In the states that red flag laws have passed, we see fewer gun homicides, fewer gun suicides. They don't have those laws in Texas or in Ohio, even though both legislatures considered them. They rolled them back and didn't pass them.
KARL: OK, so help me understand, because we heard from the acting White House chief of staff that he's all in favor of background checks, universal background checks.
And we have also seen -- Senator Lindsey Graham just a short while ago talked about the importance of these red flag laws.
So here you have what appears to be a bipartisan consensus on two of the top issues you have just mentioned.
KARL: Is it finally going to get done?
WATTS: This is all legislation that has passed the House this year. We need Mitch McConnell to allow a vote.
Citizens can text the word checks to 64433, call their senators, demand that this happens. They can save lives.
These acts of gun violence are not acts of God. They're preventable and senseless, and we can stop them.
KARL: So, John, you also heard the discussion with Mulvaney about the president's rhetoric. And he says these are sick people and it's wrong to blame the president.
In fact, Julian Castro said it's wrong, that the only -- the only person to really blame here is obviously the shooter.
But how much does the rhetoric contribute to what we're seeing here?
COHEN: It absolutely influences it.
I'm not suggesting that the president is directly responsible for these attacks. But what the president and the White House needs to understand is that the polarizing, dehumanizing rhetoric that's being used influences and empowers disaffected people.
So just as it inspires the political base, those same words can inspire a mentally unwell, disaffected, violence-prone individual to go out and commit a mass casualty attack.
KARL: The other thing we have heard the FBI talk about just recently is these conspiracy theories that are spreading online.
Again, it feeds into what John was just talking about. This cauldron of toxic rhetoric, people talking about the other, if you will, is inspiring people, in the same way that you're seeing Islamic radicals use social media to inspire people who are not affiliated with any group necessarily, but they're reading and seeing this material.
And it sparks people to act.
KARL: And what can people at home do?
THOMAS: Well, the Secret Service has been doing a lot of research. They have been looking at all the mass shootings in the last year or so.
And the one thing that they say is overwhelmingly true is that all these people who do these shootings say something to someone about violence that they're considering. They write something.
So, they're telling the public, you have to come...
KARL: If you hear anything like this, you have got to report it.
THOMAS: You have got to report it.
KARL: OK, Pierre, John, Shannon, thank you very much.
Up next, the other Texan running for president joins us. Beto O'Rourke is standing by in his El Paso hometown.
Stay with us.
KARL: We are joined now this morning by the other Texan in the 2020 presidential primary. Former Congressman Beto O'Rourke flew back to his hometown of El Paso just after news of the shooting. Thank you for joining us, Beto. So tell me -- I understand you have just visited with some of the victims at the hospital of this attack. What can you tell us about how they're doing?
O’ROURKE: It's -- it’s incredibly heartbreaking to see what these families are -- are going through right now. Met a woman yesterday who was shot in the chest, her lungs were pierced. She is not just holding on, she -- she is coming back as strong as you can possibly imagine. But it was not just one person alone in that family. Her mother was also shot in the stomach, her -- her aunt was also shot. We're seeing many families with multiple members who -- who were shot, in some cases killed. This -- this is a tragedy that there is just no way to prepare for in a community who, on average over the last 10 years, saw 18 murders a year in -- in a city of nearly 700,000 people, and to see at least 20 people killed yesterday, it's -- it’s -- it’s almost impossible to fully accept or apprehend.
But I will tell you this, this is one of the strongest communities on the planet. The way that the people of El Paso have come together, donating blood, bringing food to University Medical Center, rallying for those families who are suffering right now or who have lost a loved one just makes me so proud and -- and so inspired and has got to compel us to do everything possible to make sure that this does not continue to happen in the United States of America.
KARL: You've said that the president is fueling hate in this country. Are you suggesting that he bears responsibility for what we just saw in El Paso?
O’ROURKE: I am because he does. Someone who describes Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, who has sought to ban all -- all Muslims, all people of one religion from traveling to the United States or who calls Nazis and white supremacists very fine people -- he doesn't just tolerate, he encourages the kind of open racism and the violence that necessarily follows, that we saw here in El Paso, Texas. There's been a rise in hate crimes every single one of the last three years in this country. And it is not solely because of President Trump. It is FOX News, it is the warnings of invasions that we hear on that channel, it's these groups on -- on the internet.
But -- but for the commander-in-chief of this country, the person in the highest position of public trust to say these kinds of things -- it's not just here in El Paso, it's the Tree of Life massacre at the synagogue in -- in Pittsburgh, the shooter who -- who cited the caravans that the president has warned us about and -- and the fear that George Soros was -- was financing those caravans, something that, again, President Trump encouraged. Or -- or the fact that the Christchurch shooter in -- in New Zealand also cited President Trump and the Islamophobia that he seeks to insight in this country and around the world, all of this is connected.
And -- and if we just accept this as a natural disaster, just what our fate and our fortune and our future is in this country, we will get more of the same. So in addition to sensible gun policies -- and we must adopt and sign those into law -- we also need to connect the dots on this hatred and racism that is coming from the highest positions of power in this country.
KARL: Beto O'Rourke, thank you for joining us from El Paso. Let's bring in our roundtable now. We have ABC News Political Director Rick Klein, L.A. Times Columnist Jonah Goldberg, Democratic Strategist Stephanie Brown James of Emily's List, and a special welcome to our newest ABC News Contributor, Former North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp. Thank you all for being here.
Let me pick up on what we were just talking about earlier on the gun laws. And I know there's a debate over how much that would do or not do to solve this problem, but there does seem to be a bipartisan consensus, Rick, on universal background checks and these so-called red flag laws.
Has the political environment changed? Is something finally going to happen in those areas?
RICK KLEIN, ABC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Those are two different questions. The environment has changed, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we're ripe to see something actually pass congress or get pushed from the administration.
You saw Mick Mulvaney in your interview a few minutes ago, they weren't really budging, the White House is not budging on this issue of an assault ban. The public is there. The critical issue for advocates of gun control, particularly in the wake of shootings like this, is how do you make it a voting issue.
They've got the numbers there for an assault weapons ban, for universal background checks. We're starting to see that, we saw it a little bit in the midterm elections, but we're not really seeing all the dots connected in that way that pushes it forward.
KARL: And are conservatives moving at all on this?
JONAH GOLDBERG, COLUMNIST, L.A. TIMES: I don't necessarily sense it. And I think part of the problem, as Rick points out, is it's not so much where the national sentiment is on a specific issue, it's what moves single issue voters.
Now, there are lots of people -- there may be a majority of people who agree with the sort of Beto O'Rourke or some version of it...
KARL: Yeah, the numbers are good -- just to interrupt for a second -- 63 percent in the Quinnipiac poll in March say they support an assault weapons ban, 94 percent say universal background checks.
GOLDBERG: How many of those people, though, will vote based on that issue alone? On the other side of it, there are a lot of pro gun right people who will vote simply on the gun rights issue and it's a much bigger motivator for single issue voters on the right than it is on the left.
KARL: What's your sense, Stephanie? I mean, when is this...
STEPHANIE BROWN JAMES, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, I think that Beto O'Rourke made it crystal clear that this is an issue of both guns and hatred. And until we really tackle these two issues seriously by talking about the fact that, yes, the president is responsible for a lot of the hatred that is spewing in this country, because he consistently talks about it on a day-to-day basis.
There's almost not a time when he's not saying something that at least comes off as if it's anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-people of color, and it is something that -- it's crazy when a good tweet from him seems like it's written by someone else, because you're so used to the tweets that are racist, the tweets that are against others in this country.
And until we really tackle the fact that the Republican Party, which to me it's a horrible strategy for them to allow the president to go off the rails like this, because they're not going to gain any more voters come November of 2020 if they continue to use this divisive language and tactics that they've used.
HEIDI HEITKAMP, (D) FORMER NORTH DAKOTA SENATOR: You know what the president is responsible for? He's responsible for leadership. And he has been nowhere on this issue. He hides because the minute we get there, people start talking about guns. He relies very heavily on those single issue voters, very heavily on that classification of voters who will vote just on gun rights.
So let's talk about his leadership. He has a moral leadership to quit dividing this country theway he's been dividing this country with tweets and with political strategy. And he has a policy leadership. He's -- you know, Mick Mulvaney talked a lot about this is terrible, and yes, only one person's responsible for this, but they're responsible for policy. They're responsible for leadership. And he's responsible for moral leadership, and that's perhaps the biggest failure that we're seeing today in this administration.
KARL: But does it help when somebody like Beto O'Rourke comes out, as he did this morning, and say the president is a white nationalist? I mean, isn't that also fueling the divide? I mean, is that an accurate statement about the president? It's one thing to say he's fueling -- he said he is a white nationalist.
HEITKAMP: And I think that this is a community that he is a member of, that he represented in congress. And I think you all have to take a step back and say every person today, what is the one unifying discussion that we need a plan, that we need leadership, and it can't just be about guns, it's got to be about what we're doing with red flag laws, what we're doing to address the mental health crisis in this country.
The president's biggest failure here is the lack of moral and policy leadership that's going to get us the answers. And that's how people are going to vote, when they see nothing, this void, they're going to say you are not -- you know it's interesting because the president is positioning himself to be the security president, right? He promotes security issues, and guess what he's not providing, security in this country.
KARL: So, how is this going to play out in 2020, Rick?
KLEIN: Well, the race looks different and sounds different I think than it did a few days ago. Just a few -- at the debate a few days ago the Democrats were arguing about the Obama legacy, including on immigration and whether Obama's policies were essentially liberal enough. That's gone now. I think it's a clarifying moment for this field.
And I've been struck by how many candidates have gone straight from the gun control debate to this broader issue that Senator Heitkamp is raising about the environment that's being festered in this country of racial divisiveness, of the president's rhetoric, to me that is a powerful piece of messaging for Democrats, because it gets bigger than just are you for gun control or are you against gun control or who's responsible for a particular shooting, that gets to really fundamental issues that are motivating issues for Democrats.
GOLDBERG: I mean, I hate to sound like Marianne Williamson here, but she was the only one in the debate that talked about dark psychic forces, which is a real thing. And I think reasonable people can disagree or debate on how many blame Donald Trump's rhetoric is -- could be -- is attributable to all of this, but I think Senator Heitkamp is exactly right, he doesn't help.
But there's another issue going on here, we actually -- in terms of overall gun violence and murder, we are at historic lows, but we've had something like half of the worst mass shootings in American history in the last five years.
There's another factor going on here. And white supremacy, who has two thumbs and wants to denounce white supremacy, this guy. But there are other things going on.
We know that about a fifth of American Millennials say they have no friends. There's a mass loneliness crisis going on here, a mass crisis of meaning. And they go into places like 8Chan and they find people who are going to tell you you can matter, you will have meaning, you will belong to something if you join these ridiculous groups and you go out and you kill people like it's a video game. That's a huge problem. And it's something that I don't know that we have the political skills to address right now.
KARL: He's right, this is more profound than politics. I mean, there's a political element, but this is more profound than politics.
JAMES: And let's be honest, really it's only been recently where we've talked about white supremacy and white nationalists so open and honest and you can't address an issue if you don't talk about it.
How often do with you hear presidential candidates say white nationalists or white supremacist. That hasn't happened in the past. And so to get this out into the open, let's have a conversation about it, because it is a serious issue that we need to contend with.
KARL: Or alienation.
HEITKAMP: Do you know who has been talking about white supremacy? DHS, the FBI.
HEITKAMP: They have been warning and warning and warning. In fact, you know, when Secretary Napolitano ran DHS, she was widely criticized for talking about white supremacy as a serious terrorism threat.
It is time to take that issue, as you said, out of the closet, start really addressing it.
But this isn't a new issue, this is something that has been festering, and law enforcement knows it and the president has ignored it.
KARL: All right, that is all the time we have. Thank you all for joining us.
We're just learning the details of some of the victims of these horrific shootings. We know that at least two were children among the injured in El Paso as well as an 82-year-old. Our heart breaks for all those who died and we pray for those fighting for their lives.
And now as we do each month, we honor our fellow Americans who serve and sacrifice.
In July, four service members died overseas supporting operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
That's all for us today. Thank you for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Have a good day.