What to Know in Washington: Trump Faces Pressure After Shootings

The shooting deaths of 29 people over the weekend raised pressure on Donald Trump both to address rampant gun violence in the U.S. and reconsider his own divisive rhetoric about immigrants and minorities.

Trump had little to offer to a grieving nation on Sunday. After spending the day ensconced at his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J. — a spokesman would not say whether he played — he told reporters before returning to Washington that he’d say more about the attacks on Monday.

“Perhaps more has to be done,” he said with his wife, Melania Trump, at his side. He’s scheduled to deliver remarks at 10 a.m. in Washington.

This morning Trump called on lawmakers to come together for a solution to the mass shootings. “Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform,” he tweeted. “We must have something good, if not GREAT, come out of these two tragic events!”

The attacks in El Paso and Dayton were the latest mass shootings in the only developed country that routinely experiences them. One of the assailants appeared to have distinct political motives: a manifesto linked to the suspect in El Paso, but not yet confirmed by authorities as authentic, complained of a “Hispanic invasion of Texas” and “fake news,” and expressed fear that Texas could flip to Democrats in the 2020 election.

“He is a racist, and he stokes racism in this country,” Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso native, said of Trump after the shooting at a Walmart just a few miles from the Mexican border. “And it does not just offend our sensibilities; it fundamentally changes the character of this country and it leads to violence.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading the race to challenge Trump in 2020, abandoned his stump speech at a San Diego fundraiser late yesterday to lace into the president. “When you give a safe harbor to hate from the Oval Office, it gives license to extremism all across the country. I’m not saying he’s personally responsible but I’m saying he’s a significant contributor to what’s going on,” Biden said.

Trump, though, said both attackers were mentally ill, a familiar refrain for Republicans who seek to avoid discussion of gun control. “If you look at both of these cases, this is mental illness,” he said in New Jersey. “These are really people that are very, very seriously mentally ill.”

Lawmakers are in their month-long August recess, but Trump’s call for action may prompt discussions for a return. Read more from Josh Wingrove and Ben Brody.

Photographer: Tasos Katopodis/Bloomberg
The president and First Lady on the South Lawn of the White House after returning to Washington on Sunday.

Hispanic Group Blasts Trump: The head of UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Hispanic advocacy group, denounced Trump for racially charged comments just as the organization prepares to host at least four of his Democratic challengers at a San Diego conference. “President Trump’s hateful and bigoted words have resulted in hateful and deadly consequences,” Janet Murguía, president of UnidosUS, formerly called the National Council of La Raza, said yesterday in a statement. “He now bears some responsibility for the tragic deaths in Texas and we all must hold him accountable.”

At least four Democratic presidential candidates will attend the annual conference of UnidosUS, a Hispanic advocacy group, in San Diego, California. Among the candidates speaking will be Biden, and Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Mexico Comments: The El Paso shooting, which left seven Mexicans dead, is being considered an act of terrorism against the country’s community in the U.S., Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said. The country’s consulate is working with the victim’s families, Ebrard said at a press conference yesterday. Mexico will take legal action against whoever was responsible for selling the weapon and will follow the investigation closely, he said. “This will mark the first time that Mexico condemns an act of the kind as terr orism,” Ebrard said. Read more from Andrea Navarro.

Walmart Doesn’t Intend to Stop Sales: Walmart has no plans to stop selling guns or ammunition, or change any other retail or security practice following the shooting, a spokesman for the company said Sunday. “Our focus has always been on being a responsible seller of firearms,” company spokesman Randy Hargrove said in an interview. “We go beyond federal law requiring all customers to pass a background check before purchasing any firearm.” Read more from Henry Goldman.

Politics & Elections

Texas Rep. Marchant Won’t Seek Re-election: Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas) — who represents a Republican-leaning district in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that has been trending toward swing status — won’t seek reelection in 2020, the New York Times, Roll Call and Texas Tribune report. Marchant, first elected in 2004, had won comfortably time and again but in 2018 won by just 3 percentage points even as O’Rourke carried it in the Senate race.

Democrats are lining up a strong field, including Jan McDowell who ran in 2018, and retired Air Force Col. Kim Olson, who cut a memorable introduction advertisement, Derek Wallbank reports.

Hurd Says He Wants a GOP More Like Him: Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), the House’s lone black Republican who has announced he won’t seek re-election next year, said he wants instead to help candidates who resemble him reach office. Hurd, who has broken with Trump on some issues and whose Texas district backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” yesterday that his decision not to run again wasn’t based on whether the president would hurt his chances of keeping his seat. “I want to see a Republican Party that has more fol ks that look and sound and operate like I do,” Hurd said, citing as “phenomenal” a black U.S. Army veteran, Wesley Hunt, who is running for Congress in Houston as a Republican. Read more from Ben Brody.

McConnell Suffers Fracture in Fall: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) suffered a fractured shoulder on Sunday after tripping on an outside patio at his home in Kentucky, according to a statement from his office. McConnell, 77, was treated, released, is working from home in Louisville, and will continue to do so, according to the statement.

McConnell Says He ‘Saved the Supreme Court for a Generation’: Prior to the fall, McConnell told a crowd in his home state that he “saved the Supreme Court for a generation” by blocking Obama’s nominees ahead of the 2016 presidential election. He said he “led the way” for Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both nominated to the bench by Trump. McConnell refused to allow a Senate hearing for Judge Merrick Garland, Obama’s pick to succeed the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, in 2016, saying that a top court vacancy shouldn’t be filled during a presidential election year. Read more from Anna Edney.

Pelosi Cites Progress in Trump Probes: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Democrats in Congress will continue to “legislate, investigate and litigate” to hold Trump accountable for what she called an assault on U.S. elections and the Constitution. At a time when increasing numbers of her rank-and-file members are calling for a formal impeachment inquiry, Pelosi issued a statement Friday outlining legal battles and investigations that she said make up an aggressive posture toward the president. “In America, no one is above the law,” Pelosi said in her statement. “The president will be held accountable.” Read more from Laura Litvan.

Puerto Rico Politics: Pedro Pierluisi, the man sworn in as Puerto Rico’s governor in a constitutionally abnormal secret ceremony, said yesterday that the island’s court system should decide if he’s the rightful leader of the U.S. commonwealth. At issue are the island’s succession laws and their constitutionality. The matter was scheduled to go before the commonwealth’s Senate today, and he had said in press conference Friday that he would willingly step down if the Senate rejected him. But yesterday he appeared to su ggest the Senate vote was moot and that it was for the island’s top judges to decide. Read more from Jonathan Levin.

What Else to Know

U.S.-China Trade: Trump said this weekend “things are going along very well with China,” two days after his move to threaten tariffs on hundreds of millions of dollars in additional Chinese imports sent global stock markets tumbling. Trump said that “so far our consumer is paying nothing” from the levies imposed on China, repeating a widely-challenged assertion that China, not U.S. importers and consumers, pay the tariffs. And he included one of his regular digs at the U.S. central bank, which he contends increased interest rates too high in 2018 and has been too slow to change course: “No help from Fed!” Read more.

Esper Hits China’s ‘Destabilizing’ Behavior: Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the U.S. is firmly against China’s “destabilizing” behavior in the Indo-Pacific region and won’t stand by while one country reshapes the area, continuing a war of words between the superpowers. There is a “disturbing pattern of aggressive” conduct, Esper said at a press conference in Sydney yesterday, speaking after annual strategy talks with his Australian counterparts. The U.S. won’t “stand by idly while any one nation attempts to reshape the region to its favor at the expense of others, and we know our allies and partners will not either,” he said. China is “weaponizing the global commons using predatory economics and debt-for-sovereignty deals, and promoting state-sponsored theft of other nations’ intellectual property,” Esper said. Read more from Chelsea Mes and Jason Scott.

Australia Won’t Consider Hosting U.S. Missiles: Prime Minister Scott Morrison has ruled out hosting U.S. missile bases in Australia, and said no such request was made during key diplomatic talks between the two allies over the weekend. “That’s not something the government would consider,” Morrison told reporters today. “It’s not being asked of us, it’s not being considered. It’s not being put to us. So, you know, I think I can rule a line under that.”

Speaking to reporters on the way to Australia Saturday, Esper said he was in favor of deploying U.S. missiles to Asia within months, though didn’t specify an exact timeline, the type of weapons, or where exactly they would be positioned, the New York Times reportedRead more from Edward Johnson.

Warner Says Trump Should Keep Out of Cloud Bid: The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner (D-Va.), is urging Trump to rein in his influence over a Pentagon cloud contract valued at as much as $10 billion. Warner said in a tweet on Friday that the president shouldn’t use his power to hurt his media critics, in an apparent reference to front-runner Amazon, whose founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, Naomi Nix reports.

Esper said this weekend he heard questions from people in the White House about the contract, but wasn’t directed to order the review, Ben Brody reports. “I’m looking at all the concerns I’ve heard from members of Congress, both parties, both sides of the Hill,” Esper told reporters over the weekend while flying to Australia from Thailand, according to a transcript released by the department. “I’ve heard from people from the White House as well.”

Trump Says North Korea’s Missile Tests Could Violate UN Rules: Trump said that North Korea’s recent tests of short-range rockets and missiles may run afoul of United Nations resolutions but haven’t violated agreements with his administration. North Korea on Friday conducted its third test in a week of a new short-range ballistic missile that weapons experts say was designed to strike U.S. allies in East Asia. Its leader Kim Jong Un praised the launch, which its state news agency said “satisfactorily confirmed” the performance, capability and accuracy of t he rocket system. Read more from Alex Wayne.

White House Considers September Health Roll-Out: The Trump administration is considering releasing a health care plan next month to counter the push by some 2020 Democratic candidates for a “Medicare for All” program, Dow Jones reports, citing people familiar with the discussions that it didn’t identify. The plan could include a guarantee to maintain coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, as well as efforts to spur the sale of insurance across state lines. The plan could also include expanding health savings accounts, linking price transparency to quality measures, and additional insurance options, according to Dow Jones.

President Donald Trump hasn’t signed off on the plans, which have yet to be finalized. A senior Trump adviser, Kellyanne Conway, has briefed House Republicans and may speak to Senate Republicans about the plans after the August recess. Read more from Maria Jose Valero.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com