WASHINGTON -- Critics of President Trump on Sunday denounced his heated rhetoric on race and immigration in the wake of a mass shooting in El Paso, but the president's supporters said it was unfair to blame him for inspiring such attacks.
Democratic elected officials also called anew for tightened gun laws after a shooter's rampage in a crowded shopping area a short distance from the border with Mexico on Saturday, which left at least 20 people dead. That was followed hours later by a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, in which nine died along with the attacker.
Among Democrats, White House aspirants were some of the sharpest critics of the president, asserting that he bore a share of moral responsibility for fomenting hatred that could serve as an inspiration to attackers. But a top Trump aide, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, retorted that "I don't think it's fair to lay this at the feet of the president."
While stopping short of assigning direct blame, Democratic candidates castigated Trump for encouraging white supremacists with rhetoric dating back to the early days of his own campaign. Authorities in Texas were scrutinizing whether the alleged gunman in El Paso wrote an anti-immigrant screed that was posted online shortly before the shootings.
"I have this belief that you reap what you sow, and he is sowing seeds of hate in this country," Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat who is seeking his party's 2020 nomination, said of Trump.
"The harvest of hate-violence we're seeing right now lies at his feet," said Booker, who was interviewed on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Another Democratic contender, Pete Buttigieg of Indiana, speaking on "Fox News Sunday," did not mention Trump by name, but said white nationalism "is condoned at the highest levels of our government." He referred to racially motivated shooting attacks as "terrorism."
Democratic presidential aspirants from Texas were particularly incensed by the deadly attack. Beto O'Rourke, asked on CNN's "State of the Union" whether he believes Trump is a white nationalist, responded: "Yes, I do."
Former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who is also running for president, cited the need to address "toxic white supremacy that is brewing in the country" and said GOP elected officials needed to "call out" the president's divisive rhetoric.
"If this had been somebody of the Muslim faith that had committed this kind of act, immediately they would go with this idea that--as the president has, this bogus idea--that we have to keep all Muslims out of the country, which is absolutely ridiculous," Castro said on NBC.