Washington Week

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Politicians At Odds in Wake of Orlando Shooting

By Jenna Goff
Washington Week Fellow

Political leaders were quick to condemn Sunday's attack at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando that left 49 people dead and dozens others wounded. Their responses have further exposed the divisions between the presidential candidates, as well as rifts within the parties themselves, especially on the topics of national security, immigration and gun control.

Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump was one of the first to speak out on Sunday, posting a series of tweets in which he called for the government to get "tough, smart & vigilant" and lauded himself for "being right on radical Islamic terrorism."

Trump spoke in New Hampshire the following day, where he criticized President Obama and his likely Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton for failing to use the term "radical Islamic terrorism" and renewed his call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Yet some politicians in Trump's own party are taking issue with his comments about Muslims. In a press conference Tuesday morning, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., made a distinction between fighting radical Islam and Islam as a whole. He also stressed the need for American unity and referenced the 67-point plan to deal with terrorism that he and other GOP House leaders proposed last week.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have expressed the need to be vigilant in not attacking the entire Muslim community as well. Clinton responded to Trump's criticism about not using the term "radical Islamic terrorism" saying she would not declare war on an entire religion for the actions of one shooter. Her words echoed what Sanders said Monday.

Clinton further countered Trump's comments during an event in Cleveland, where she said Trump’s immigration ban would hurt the vast majority of peaceful Muslims. Clinton instead suggested that the government focus on stopping lone wolf attacks and enforcing tighter gun safety measures.

Over the past days, President Obama has also criticized Congress for failing to take action on "common sense" gun reforms. In a press conference after meeting with his National Security Council on Tuesday, he called on lawmakers to take action on the assault weapon ban. These sentiments are not new for President Obama, who has spoken out following mass shootings at least 14 times during his presidency. 

Trump countered on Wednesday in Atlanta that if patrons at the club had guns of their own, the carnage would have been far less.

Others agree, saying stricter gun laws aren’t the answer, and are calling for increased force against what they term "radical Islam" and ISIS. Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., pledged his support for Trump, pointing out that the issue at hand is terrorism.

The debate continues as democratic senators organize a filibuster to force action on gun laws. Trump and the NRA are also expected to meet to discuss what moves can be taken.