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For Trump, Another Tragedy Presents Another Test


Late this morning, President Trump solemnly addressed the nation.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: To the families of the victims, we are praying for you, and we are here for you. And we ask God to help see you through this very dark period. Scripture teaches us the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. We seek comfort in those words, for we know that God lives in the hearts of those who grieve.

MCEVERS: President Trump called the shooting an act of pure evil. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here with us. Hey there, Mara.


MCEVERS: So this was a subdued Donald Trump. What is the sense of how he has been handling this tragedy so far?

LIASSON: Well, he's been handling the tragedy as any other president would. And that's the news because, up until now, President Trump hasn't seen his role as president as exerting any kind of moral authority or unifying effort. Up until now, he's politicized tragedies and gotten involved in feuds, such as the one he did with the mayor of San Juan over the Puerto Rican hurricane damage.

But this was a very familiar role for a president to play. He stuck to the script. He read off a teleprompter. And he said the kind of soothing words that people have come to expect from their presidents. It's just - it's something that he doesn't usually do, or, at least, he doesn't sustain.

MCEVERS: Right, right. This is - and this is also - this is day one.

LIASSON: Right - day one.

MCEVERS: When the debate turns to another conversation, possibly how to prevent an attack like this, what's going to happen then?

LIASSON: Well, that's - the debate is already turning to how to prevent attacks like this. Democrats are angry. They say thoughts and prayers are not enough. And they would like to move forward on the kinds of gun control measures that have widespread bipartisan support among the public like toughening background checks so that people with mental illness do not have access to assault weapons or, for instance, making it harder to get military-style assault weapons, which are designed for one purpose and one purpose only, which is to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. There used to be an assault weapon ban. It lapsed. And Congress hasn't wanted to renew it.

So those are the kinds of things that the public supports. But this Congress has gone in the opposite direction because this week, they were about to take up H.R.367 which is a bill that would make it easier to buy silencers for guns. There's another measure that would also make it easier to buy armor-piercing bullets. So Congress has been going in the other direction.

MCEVERS: It'll be interesting to see what they do now. And, of course, the White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said today, the time to talk about all of this is not now. I mean, that's something we hear often.

LIASSON: Well, she said, we shouldn't talk about policy now. But the president always talks about policy after these events. After Orlando, he talked about a Muslim ban. After the terrorist attack in London, he talked about a Muslim ban. In other words, he often comes up with policy solutions and talks about them immediately after an event like this.

MCEVERS: What'll you be listening for next? I mean, the president's going to Puerto Rico tomorrow. Then he will be going to Las Vegas. What'll you be looking for?

LIASSON: Well, I think there's a lot of cognitive dissonance here because he's going to Puerto Rico, which was the site of terrible devastation. And the president has not shown empathy for the people there. As a matter of fact, he's disparaged them as politically motivated ingrates, people who want - just wanted a handout, wanted everything done for them.

It almost sounded like he was a kind of old-fashioned New York City politician talking about those Puerto Ricans on welfare. So - and he got into a kind of fight with the mayor of San Juan, who didn't criticize him directly but begged for more help than what she said she was getting. And he took umbrage at that and really went after her on Twitter, saying she had poor leadership, saying she was conspiring with Democrats to make him look bad.

So I guess what I'm looking for when he goes to Puerto Rico tomorrow is to see if any of that tension is present and also to see if the mayor of Puerto Rico shows up and decides to, you know, meet with him. She might be busy wading through hip-deep water to get to her constituents, as she has been doing.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks a lot.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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