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Politics In The News: Candidates And The Orlando Mass Shooting

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene at member station WMFE in Orlando, Fla. You know, when President Obama spoke about the mass shooting in this city, it was hard to escape the politics. Fifty people were killed here in the nation's deadliest gun attack. And the president alluded to the contentious subject of gun control.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARACK OBAMA: The shooter was apparently armed with a handgun and a powerful assault rifle. This massacre is, therefore, a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school or in a house of worship or a movie theater or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that's the kind of country we want to be.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's talk through the political implications with NPR commentator and columnist Cokie Roberts. Cokie, good morning, once again.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

GREENE: And also Denise McAllister. She's senior contributor at The Federalist magazine. She joins us as well. Good morning to you.

DENISE MCALLISTER: Good morning.

GREENE: Cokie, let me start with you if I can. There is a presidential campaign happening. We have two nominees - Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump - people looking for leadership in moments like this, also to see if these candidates are presidential in their eyes. How did they each approach things here?

ROBERTS: Exactly as one would predict that they would approach things. So Donald Trump doubled down on his saying that we should ban Muslims coming into this country, saying, I said this was going to happen. It's only going to get worse - and saying that Hillary Clinton wants to let thousand - hundreds of thousands more migrants from the Middle East come into the country.

Hillary Clinton said it's a tragic day. But she also talked about gay rights. And she talked about gun control. So it just underlines the divide in this country, which is huge. And it's not - sometimes in these tragedies, it's a time of people coming together. Clearly, that's not the case here. It's also a great reminder that events can have a tremendous impact on a political campaign. It's the thing that terrifies candidates the most...

GREENE: Yeah.

ROBERTS: ...That they're completely out of their control. And the events take over.

INSKEEP: Denise McAllister, because you've been sympathetic to Donald Trump, let me ask something about his security proposals, which he reiterated. We're talking here about a gunman who was U.S. born, who was a U.S. citizen, which seems to be more common in attacks like this up to now. Trump's security proposals have focused on keeping away outsiders. Aren't his proposals largely irrelevant here?

MCALLISTER: I think they're not completely irrelevant. There is still the risk of people coming into the nation. But I agree with you. Our enemy lives among us. And we really need to do something about that. And I think a declaration of war would help, which would free up law enforcement to actually do the kind of investigations they need to do so that guns don't get in the hands of domestic terrorists. But I also think maybe a temporary ban on people coming from regions where there's radicalization - I think that's common sense. So you just don't add more to the mix.

INSKEEP: Although it does raise an interesting question - if the problem is actually radicalized people who are already here, you would want help from their neighbors, their friends, their family to help root them out. Do you believe that an approach like you described, the Donald Trump approach, would win the loyalty of immigrant communities or Muslim communities, for that matter?

MCALLISTER: Well, I think moderate Muslims and people who want peace recognize that there's a problem. They're as concerned about it as we are. And I think that we can rely on them and we can unite with them against a common enemy. And that's what I really want to see happening. I want to see that from Donald Trump. And I want to see it from Hillary Clinton. I want to see unification. This attack in Orlando was against all of us. It was not just against LGBT community. It wasn't just in Florida. It was against every single one of us. And that's why it's - we need to come together. And we need to have someone who has leadership and strength to actually do something about it.

INSKEEP: Cokie, you're not hearing a lot of unity.

ROBERTS: No, certainly not. And then quite the contrary. It's been cause for division rather than unification. And, of course, it's going to be interesting to see what the political effects are. We have seen, with the past attacks, that Donald Trump's polling numbers go up. There is this sense that he is strong. And we also might see a benefit for him today because he was going to give a speech attacking the Clintons, which could have been not terribly useful to him. Now he's going to give a policy speech.

And it comes after a weekend where you had this meeting in Utah with Mitt Romney hosting it and a lot of disgruntled Republicans. And maybe now they will not be as vocal because of the tragedy. And maybe because he will not go on this full-throated attack against the Clintons, perhaps it will be different. Also, you know, this is a problem for Hillary Clinton. She was supposed to go on the trail with Barack Obama on Wednesday, the day after the last primary tomorrow in the District of Columbia, and that's been postponed. So that's...

GREENE: As you say, Cokie, all plans...

ROBERTS: ...A problem for her campaign.

GREENE: ...All plans can go out the table when something dramatic and tragic happens like this.

Denise, let me ask you about sort of another political context here. Same-sex rights, the LGBT community - it seemed like we had come to a place in the country where, you know, there's a real movement in public opinion. There was a big Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. And this community, you know, people have been telling us, not feeling as threatened by hate. And then we have an event like this that President Obama, Hillary Clinton have brought up. What is the political significance to the fact this was a gay nightclub targeted?

MCALLISTER: Well, I think if we focus on this as an act of war - and it's not something that involves us as a people, as Americans, that this isn't about us being divided. Like you said, we've come together on these issues. Someone has inserted themselves from the outside, from a foreign ideology and has violated our rights and our people. We need to unify together, straight people and LGBT. This is, like I said before, is an attack on all of us. And this was not just a random act of hate. I think that's too general. I don't like that term. I think we need to name this. That's very important.

GREENE: Although people in the LGBT community feel that they were - that they were very targeted here. That this was not an act of...

MCALLISTER: Well, they were. And they were...

GREENE: ...War against the country.

MCALLISTER: Yes, and they were targeted by radical Islam.

ROBERTS: Well, except that...

MCALLISTER: They were not targeted by their...

ROBERTS: There's plenty of anti-gay sentiment in this country...

MCALLISTER: There is, but I'm...

ROBERTS: ...As well.

MCALLISTER: ...Not going to malign all Americans in this situation. That kind of thinking is what causes division. We need to unify and unify against the enemy, not against each other.

INSKEEP: Just about 15 seconds here, Denise. Why is it important to say the words radical Islam? Trump is a insisting that Obama say those exact words, even though he did describe it as a terrorist attack and other things?

MCALLISTER: Because we need to identify our enemy. And we need to understand what motivates them, what compels them and what is the context for their actions - who they target and why they target and how they're radicalized. And if you don't understand the religious impulses here - and it's how they perceive it. I'm not saying that all - that this is how everyone believes as Muslims. But it's how they interpret it. And we need to understand that in order to identify - they call themselves Islamic.

ROBERTS: It's a radical with a gun. And that's something very important to keep in mind.

MCALLISTER: It's a radical Islamist with a gun.

INSKEEP: OK. Got it.

ROBERTS: A gun that he was able to get because...

INSKEEP: This argument will continue for some time, guys. Thank you very much.

MCALLISTER: Obama's...

INSKEEP: That's Denise McAllister of The Federalist along with NPR commentator and columnist Cokie Roberts. Thanks to both of you for joining us this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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