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Trump Responds To Pittsburgh Shooting

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

To help us make sense of something so senseless, we are now joined by NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson - and to put this into context as well because there were package bombs sent to prominent Democrats this past week. And this is affecting our political discourse and our political leaders. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: President Trump held a political rally in Illinois in the wake of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue. What did he have to say?

LIASSON: Yeah. Let me just say a few thoughts. First of all, my mom grew up in the Jewish community of Pittsburgh. She's 92. My cousins all grew up in Squirrel Hill. And what we're talking about, I think, is the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history just days after, as you just said, the largest assassination attempt on political leaders in U.S. history, so two horrific violent acts. And the president has had a lot of unifying words. He has spoken out against what he's called pure evil.

But he has followed those words with partisan attacks, politics as usual at his rallies - with a little less vitriol. He said last night at his rally in Illinois, I'm going to tone it down a little bit. And he did. But it's also true - and we're going to have a big debate about this - that he has tweeted that George Soros funded the caravan. The alleged shooter...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: George Soros, of course, is Jewish.

LIASSON: ...In Pittsburgh also posted on social media that Jews were funding the caravan. He particularly was angry about the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

And the - Kevin McCarthy, the majority leader in the House, has been tweeting how Soros, Steyer and Bloomberg are trying to steal this election, which is pretty coded anti-Semitic language. So we're going to have a big debate about whether the president's words, words of other people helped create this climate. Nobody is saying that in any way, the president is responsible for what happened. But there's what he says and then there is what people hear.

We're also going to have a big debate about gun control. Right after the incident, the president said that if there had been more people with guns in the synagogue, this wouldn't have happened. Already, you've heard the Pittsburgh mayor and the governor of Pennsylvania say, no, that's not the answer. So ten days, nine days out from the election, we've got this situation to process and try to figure out how to stop in the future.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Mara, let me just say first of all, I'm so sorry. I didn't realize that you had a personal connection to the synagogue. This must be very difficult.

LIASSON: Not to the synagogue, just to the community.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: To the community, to the community. You mention that there are, of course, many ramifications. Midterm elections are just over a week away. Will the events of this past week affect the elections? And if so, how?

LIASSON: Well, I don't know. I think the easy answer - the quick answer is to say that the trajectory of this election is pretty well-set. The House looks like it's trending to the Democrats. The Senate looks like it's trending to the Republicans. But it might have some effect. I mean, this, once again, thrusts gun violence into the political debate. Some people might be reminded of how they felt after the Parkland shootings. Maybe that would have an effect.

One of the effects that I think this will have, as the pipe bombs story had, is that it makes it harder for the president to control the narrative because we're not talking about Kavanaugh and the caravan as much as we're talking about the pipe bomber and the synagogue shooter. And he has actually complained about that. He said that Republicans had momentum. And now this bomb thing happened and that's all the media's talking about. So that's one way it did have an effect. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.