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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump Heads To El Paso Amid Protests Over His Visit, Slams Ohio Senator And Dayton Mayor; Interview With El Paso City Council Member Cassandra Hernandez; Interview With Governor Steve Bullock (D-MT), Presidential Candidate; Biden Slams Trump For "Deafening Silence" In The Face Of White Supremacist Violence; Beto O'Rourke Says President Trump Not Welcome In El Paso. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired August 7, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back.
Right now President Trump and the First Lady are arriving at University Medical Center in El Paso where he is expected to meet with some of the victims of the horrific, racist El Paso shooting.
Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, El Paso visit.
Air Force One just touched down in El Paso. President Trump will be meeting with victims of the mass shooting and thanking first responders. His visit is sparking protests from El Paso residents who don't appreciate his anti-immigrant rhetoric. But will the President see or hear them?
"Nice job" -- earlier the President visited shooting victims and officials in Dayton, Ohio. The city's mayor tells CNN he did a nice job of consoling people but added she's disappointed because he offered nothing concrete about stopping gun violence.
Her news conference sparked a Twitter attack from the President as he headed to El Paso. Why can't he resist getting political?
In isolation -- as the President visits survivors of the attack, sources tell CNN the alleged gunman is on lockdown and in isolation. What are investigators learning about the murderous plot that led him to El Paso?
And fan the flames -- former vice president Joe Biden aims a blistering attack at President Trump accusing him of aligning himself with the darkest forces in this nation and fanning the flames of white supremacy. Stand by for more of what Biden and other 2020 Democrats are saying about the President.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Breaking news. President Trump arriving in El Paso just moments ago. Earlier he and the First Lady stopped at a hospital in Dayton, Ohio to thank first responders and meet with some of the shooting victims and their families.
The President spent his flight between Dayton and El Paso tweeting attacks on the mayor of Dayton and Ohio's Democratic U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown even though when he left the White House this morning, the President told reporters he thinks his rhetoric brings people together.
This hour, I'll speak with El Paso City Council Member Cassandras Hernandez. And our correspondents analysts are standing by including CNN crews covering the President's trip to Dayton and El Paso, then back to the White House.
Let's begin with our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim -- the President Trump can't seem to resist mixing politics with his role as consoler-in-chief.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right Wolf. President Trump just arrived in El Paso, Texas to meet with law enforcement officials and some of the victims from last weekend's massacre. He is heading to the hospital in El Paso right now as we speak.
But the President just spent the last few hours blasting away at his critics on Twitter including some on the ground in Ohio while the President was flying on Air Force One. Even when the cities of El Paso and Dayton are grieving, the President is airing his grievances.
ACOSTA: Facing what is shaping to be a critical moment in his administration, President Trump arrived in El Paso, Texas to try to comfort another U.S. city traumatized by a mass shooting.
Earlier in the day he spent times with massacre victims in Dayton, Ohio where he was pressed by lawmakers to do something about gun violence.
SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D-OH): We can't get anything done in the Senate because Mitch McConnell and the President of the United States are in bed with the gun lobby.
ACOSTA: As the President was flying from Ohio to Texas, he was live tweeting a speech from former vice president, Joe Biden as he ripped into Mr. Trump.
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How far is it from Trump saying this is an invasion to the shooter in El Paso declaring, quote, this attack is a response to Hispanic invasion of Texas. How far apart are those comments?
ACOSTA: The President tweeted he was watching and said Biden was so boring. The White House insisted the President would play the role of consoler-in-chief but President Trump sounded at times as though he was consoling himself.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So my critics are political people. They're trying to make points.
ACOSTA: Dodging questions about his incendiary rhetoric and making the head scratching claim that his language has somehow unified the country.
TRUMP: No, I don't think my rhetoric has at all. I think my rhetoric is a very -- it brings people together.
ACOSTA: Mr. Trump was pressed on the El Paso gunman's manifesto which appeared to be inspired in part by the President's use of the term "invasion" to describe migrants. He side stepped that one too.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You and the shooter in El Paso used that same language. Do you regret that?
TRUMP: I think that illegal immigration -- you're talking about illegal immigration, right? Yes. I think illegal immigration is a terrible thing for this country. I think you have to come in legally.
ACOSTA: The President then proceed to spread the blame around for the outbreak of violence under his watch.
TRUMP: Ip don't like it. Any group of hate, I am -- whether it's white supremacy, whether it's any other kind of supremacy, -- whether it's Antifa, whether it's any group --
ACOSTA: Just as he did after Charlottesville.
[17:04:58] TRUMP: And you bad some very bad people in that group but you also have people that were very fine people -- on both sides.
ACOSTA: Despite striking a tone of unity earlier in the week, the President lashed out at Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke tweeting, "Beto, (phony name to indicate Hispanic heritage) O'Rourke should respect the victims and law enforcement and be quiet."
O'Rourke fired back, "22 people in my home town are dead after an act of terror inspired by your racism. El Paso will not be quiet and neither will I."
BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We will proudly stand together for one another and for this country and that is what I'm doing with my community right now.
ACOSTA: After some elected leaders in El Paso urged the President to stay in the White House, the city's main newspaper published an open letter to Mr. Trump that reads, "Mr. President the hatred of the El Paso shootings didn't come from our city."
Residents in El Paso remember the President's visit to the city in February when he painted migrants as criminals.
TRUMP: Murderers, murderers, murderers, killing, murders. We will. We will.
(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: And we should point out right now the President is on the ground in El Paso. He is visiting a hospital there in El Paso to meet with some of the victims there after last weekend's massacre. There is a large police presence as you could see on the ground right now outside of that hospital, trying to make sure everything stays safe in that area.
We should point out White House officials earlier in the day, Wolf -- lashed out at Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and the mayor of Dayton as the President did on Twitter accusing those two elected leaders of quote "disgusting behavior for not acknowledging the reception Mr. Trump received at the hospital in Dayton, Ohio earlier today.
But Senator Brown, we should point out for the record -- Wolf, told reporters the President was, quote, "received well and did the right thing at the hospital. So it is not exactly clear what the White House -- what the President is talking about.
As to whether the President will take action on gun violence, a source tells CNN Mr. Trump is looking at some kind of executive order to tighten up the nation's background check system -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll see if that happens. Jim Acosta, at the White House for us thank you very much.
Also tonight, we're learning more about what has happened to the El Paso suspect who gave himself up after Saturday's massacre.
Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's getting new information. What are you hearing -- Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf -- we have new information tonight from the investigation on how police tracked the shooter's alleged manifesto and new details tonight on his conditions inside a local jail cell.
TODD: Tonight law enforcement officials tell CNN suspected shooter 21-year-old Patrick Crusius is being held on lockdown in isolation inside this detention center in downtown El Paso. A sheriff's Department Official said he's being held in a single 7 by 11 foot cell away from other inmates.
Law enforcement veterans tell us his possible interaction with other inmates is a major concern.
CARLOS LEON, FORMER EL PASO POLICE CHIEF: Just moving him from his area to another area, just to make sure that he's not attacked. There is all sorts of things when you transfer, they've got to ensure that that person makes it to trial.
So as I understand, he's been held in an area where he will be safe from other inmates and safe from himself.
TODD: But a sheriff's department official tells CNN the suspect is not on suicide watch. The El Paso police lieutenant leading the team which track down what they believe is the shooter's racist manifesto tell CNN affiliate WOI, police had to sift through a lot of false information and panic to find that clue.
LT. DUSTIN LISTON, DIRECTOR, EL PASO FUSION CENTER: We were able to uncover this manifesto relatively quickly. But we weren't able to attribute it to the suspect until later.
TODD: Tonight investigators are piecing together information on the shooters alleged planning, including his 10 to 11 hour journey to El Paso. Key questions they're looking at --
LEON: Did he talk to anybody. Did he indicate anything at all? Do you have tape on that?
PROF. DANIEL LIEBERMAN, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: You never know who it is that is going to see the signs. And people who see the signs might assume, well, I don't know this person very well, someone else is going to report it. That is not a great idea.
If there is a problem, anyone who sees it should get involved and report it.
TODD: Former El Paso police chief Carlos Leon is confident this resilient community will recover but he says residents will have serious security concerns going forward.
LEON: There will be a fear factor in all of us as we go to these larger stores, large events. Of course we're going to be thinking in the back of our mind, hey, am I safe here? And you start looking around.
TODD: And tonight Walmart itself is having to address a lot of those security concerns. The retail chain under scrutiny for not having any security guards whatsoever here on Saturday and for the policy of selling guns.
Walmart officials telling CNN tonight they are reviewing their security protocols at all of their stores and taking a very deliberate measure in reviewing their policy on selling guns -- Wolf.
[17:10:00] And to set the tone more of what is going on on the ground, as President Trump right at this moment is at that University Medical Center here in El Paso, still a lot of raw emotions and frankly a lot of tension here on the ground.
Behind me is this memorial area where people have come to pay tribute to the victims but on occasion you've had sporadic protests her behind plus heated street arguments here between Trump supports and others.
Also, as we've been reporting, a protest at a nearby park here in El Paso where people are being very, very passionate about just, you know, what is going on her and about President Trump's visit.
So as the President visits that medical center, just a lot of raw emotion here on the ground.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us in El Paso. Thanks -- Brian.
Let's go to Dayton right now where the President met with shooting victims, their families and local officials.
CNN'S Jason Carroll spoke with the Dayton's mayor. What did she tell you about the meeting with President Trump?
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple of things. She was very honest about the meeting -- Wolf. She said that the meeting initially went well in terms of how Trump had responded to some of the victims at the hospital from this terrible shooting.
But she also did not hold back her impressions of how she feels as though the President handles the issue of gun control. She said, quote, "She does not believe the President is capable of having a real conversation about gun safety."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR NAN WHALEY, DAYTON, OHIO: he was there to comfort the -- those injured and those victims and he and the First Lady did a nice job of that.
I would say no. There was nothing concrete that we got out of it but, you know, we got to speak our mind about this issue which I think is so important to Daytonians. And so that did happen.
It's disappointing. It's disappointing when your community has gone through this much and, you know, there is no discussion really about what needs to change, what policy matters need to change. It's disappointing.
Well I mean he just uses words that don't really mean anything. So we're going to do something. Because I was really like, you know, Mr. President, we need to see action. We need to see something done on gun control, specifically on gun control. We're going to do something.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARROLL: So what you're hearing from there Wolf, is Mayor Whaley very frustrated, very disappointed overall about that meeting with the President. She really feels as though -- was hoping that the President would at least commit to something when it comes to gun safety. She said she came out of that meeting with nothing -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jason Carroll in Dayton for us. Jason -- thanks very much.
Joining us now, the El Paso City Council Member Cassandra Hernandez. Cassandra -- thanks so much for joining us. And I know these are difficult days for you, for everyone in El Paso, for so many people around the country.
You joined a protest today against President Trump. He's in your city right now. What is your message to the President?
CASSANDRA HERNANDEZ, EL PASO CITY COUNCIL MEMBER: My message to the President is that he is not welcome for many reasons. Because he has dehumanized immigrants and Mexicans, people of my community. He has taken no action on gun reform and diverted that blame. And worst, he has awakened a hate deep within white supremacists that has caused shootings like we have seen tis weekend.
BLITZER: On his way to your city, El Paso, the President criticized the mayor of Dayton who had just hosted him in the aftermath of her city's mass shooting and last night the President tweeted that your former congressman from El Paso, Beto O'Rourke, should be, quote, "quiet".
Are you concerned about what he might say about El Paso following his visit there?
HERNANDEZ: No. I'm not concerned. But I have some advice for him. How about he instead celebrates American El Paso heroes that we see here in El Paso. Like two African-Americans, Christopher Grant (ph) who was throwing bottles at the shooter to distract him from shooting a newborn baby. Like Army Serviceman Glendan Oakland (ph) who had carried children to keep them from being shot by the shooter. And like U.S. CBP agent for helping bring aid to Chris Grant. And like our first responders and thanking the people who supported this tragedy and the hospital staff and so many more.
So I would like to see the President honor our heroes before criticizing our leaders in El Paso.
BLITZER: Some El Paso residents actually put out signs for President Trump. I want to read one of them. This is translated from Spanish. It says, "Mr. Trump, no more acts of racism, acts of hate, acts of terrorism. We are a Hispanic country and the hate towards Mexicans is not fair. We are three girls, American citizens, our parents are Mexican. And we are afraid to go outside," end quote.
Does that line up, Cassandra, from what you're hearing from your constituents?
[17:14:59] HERNANDEZ: I hear a variety of things. But I think what saddens me the most, Wolf -- is how parents are trying to talk about this to their children. Are they next to be shot for being Hispanic or migrants? And that is very unfortunate that this is the America that we have created.
And Trump has had no -- has not brought us the words to comfort us, has contributed to the problem. He is part of the problem. He needs to take back his evil words about migrants, about asylum-seekers, about refugees, about Mexicans, about Hispanics -- people who look like me.
And I'm so -- I'm so sorry to the people who are living in fear. But this evil act will not define us. We are more united than I've ever seen before. We're El Paso strong. And that is the message that we are sharing with everybody, those who are fearing to live in their own skin.
BLITZER: President Trump says he's looking at background check legislation. But CNN has also learned that top White House officials have held conversations with the National Rifle Association, the NRA, since the shooting in El Paso. What is your reaction to that?
HERNANDEZ: I think it is a good first step. I'm not -- I'm not confident but I will be optimistic that something comes from that. Until we ban assault rifles -- weapons of war, high-capacity magazines, universal background checks, we're not going to see the end of these mass shooting.
This has been normalized and this is commonplace in our nation. And he needs to do more than just meeting with NRA members who give money and lobby and give millions of dollars to congressmen and to senators. We need more than just talk. We need action. We need policy today.
BLITZER: What does your community right now need most to begin healing?
HERNANDEZ: I think we need to hear President Trump apologize to Hispanics who look like me, to the immigrants. I think what we need is for President Trump to denounce some of the executive orders and some of the practices of the border patrol and homeland security, leaving migrants in Mexico so that they can't seek asylum here.
We need to see him reverse a lot of his actions and to apologize to the American people, to the Hispanic and Latino communities and to immigrants of the United States.
BLITZER: Cassandra Hernandez -- thanks very much. We'll stay in very close touch with you.
Once again we're monitoring the President. He's in El Paso right now. Very, very heavy security surrounding the President.
He's over at the University Medical Center where he's meeting with first responders and hospital staff and, most importantly, victims.
Much more of our special coverage right after this.
[17:17:39] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Our breaking news. We're following President Trump's visit to a hospital in El Paso, Texas right now -- the city where a mass shooting on Saturday has claimed 22 lives. The President is meeting right now with victims, their families, first responders, and hospital staff.
Joining us now, one of the Democrats running for president, Montana Governor Steve Bullock. Governor -- thanks so much for coming in.
GOVERNOR STEVE BULLOCK (D-MT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Wolf -- it's great to be with you.
BLITZER: Unfortunately, we have to meet at an awful time. What do you think the impact of the President's visit today in Dayton, now in El Paso will be?
BULLOCK: Well, I think on the one hand the impact that then continuing sort of the Twitter storms of division. I mean I think at the end of the day, I would love to see the impact actually doing some things, like universal background checks, things where he says he could make a difference. But we certainly haven't seen that sort of moral or policy leadership out of this president.
BLITZER: What does it say to you that on Twitter on this flight from Dayton to El Paso, he's criticizing the Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown from Ohio, the Mayor of Dayton, Mayor Whaley. He's tweeting about that on a day that -- should be so somber, meeting with families and victims of these massacres.
BULLOCK: And not just the communities are in mourning, the country is in mourning and shock. Mayor Whaley, I know her -- she and I actually we went to the President of Mexico's inauguration together. A good person that actually said decent things about he showed up at the hospital and did the right thing.
But to turn around and make this about him, politically attacking both them and Joe Biden. I mean our country expects more than this.
BLITZER: Well, if somebody attacks him he goes right back, as you know, and attacks them even -- on a bigger --
BULLOCK: You bet.
BLITZER: That is the nature of this president.
But let's talk hypothetically, God forbid -- I hope it never happens that there is a mass shooting in your state of Montana -- what would you have done if the President wanted to come to Montana and meet with survivors and families and first responders. Would you have welcomed the President? Because some of the leaders, they don't want to welcome the President.
BULLOCK: Well I think for a President that says on a Monday that, you know, we should be united in our voice against racism, bigotry, white supremacy yet for the last two and a half years he certainly hasn't walked that walk. I mean it is real problematic.
[17:24:59] But it is the President. You certainly have to welcome him. But you have hopes and expectations then that he would take that moment of moral leadership for our nation and be both a consoler, but also bring our country together on things like universal background checks.
BLITZER: Let's talk about that because you laid out -- you had a speech today laying out your vision for gun control. You're a gun owner yourself. You lost a nephew in gun violence -- very sad development indeed.
What kind of legislation realistically do you think could be passed in the House and the Senate and signed into law by the President that would affect guns, especially weapons of mass destruction here in the United States?
BULLOCK: No, I think if we could ever look at this as a public health issue, not as a political issue, we could make it a difference. Public health issue would say even gun owners want to make sure the guns aren't in the wrong hands. So Universal background checks. Yes, red flag, yes moving, taking away guns where orders of protection are in place.
Look. Walmart and Dick's -- places like that -- don't even sell assault weapons. There is no reason that we continue to sell them as well.
BLITZER: Realistically, though, you think that could change in the current environment?
BULLOCK: I think, you know -- and I think back to right after Parkland, the President had Democratic and Republican governors to the White House. And they said it is time --
BLITZER: You were there?
BULLOCK: Yes. He said it is time to take action. You as governors shouldn't be afraid of the NRA and we'll have universal background checks.
But when I was growing up, the NRA was a gun safety and hunting organization. Now it is a political organization doing nothing more than trying to divide this country.
BLITZER: Your position on guns have changed. When you were running for re-election in 2016 you were against universal -- correct me if I'm wrong -- universal background checks. What has changed?
BULLOCK: Yes. I mean I think that our nation is changing. I've lowered even since Parkland the flags seven times, a fourth of the times I've been asked to lower the flags by a president and that is for Veteran's Day and everything else for mass shootings.
It is time that we actually make a meaningful difference like on universal background checks, the vast majority of gun owners are Republicans and NRA members say it is time to do this.
BLITZER: Because when you were running in 2016, in a debate you said "In my eight years in public service our Second Amendment rights have been expanded in Montana, not limited."
BULLOCK: Yes. Yes, indeed, that is from the time of the Heller decision on. I've also vetoed 14 bills that wouldn't make sense for our communities, or for law enforcement, our keeping our kids safe.
So I think that the Second Amendment that a right but with that right comes some responsibilities.
BLITZER: Let me get in a political question, because if you don't get the Democratic presidential nomination, there is a tough fight. There's 20, 25 candidates out there, you obviously want to change the position on guns here in the United States. Would you consider running for the Senate if the presidential thing doesn't work out?
BULLOCK: Yes. And we have some great folks running for the senate in Montana that I think can be -- Steve Daines -- so that wouldn't be me. But I that think --
BLITZER: Are you ruling it out? Because you're a very popular governor over there and if you were to run against the incumbent Republican senator you'll have a good chance of winning.
BULLOCK: As others will. So it won't be me. But I think we should also not just talk about like the Senate seat in Montana or Colorado, we should also be talking about how we as Democrats are losing places like North Dakota last time or Indiana. Like if we can't make connections all across this country as Democrats, we're never going to actually get back to governing.
It is not just the White House, it is actually making sure that we have Democrats across this country, not just on the coasts.
BLITZER: You've got a beautiful state in Montana. Governor Bullock -- thanks so much for coming in. Good luck out there on the campaign trail.
BULLOCK: Thanks for having me -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.
Stay with us. We're continuing to monitor President Trump's visit with shooting victims, with first responders in El Paso. As well as the protests by people who don't want him in their city.
[17:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, President Trump now in El Paso, Texas on the second leg of a trip to visit two cities shaken by mass gun violence this past weekend. The President's earlier visit to Dayton, Ohio was met with skepticism from some local officials, which generated some rather angry tweets aboard Air Force One when the President was flying from Dayton to El Paso traveling. Let's discuss this and more with our political experts.
Nia, let's talk about this visit that the President -- he's at the hospital now at the University Medical Center --
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes.
BLITZER: -- visiting with survivors, family members, first responders, doctors, nurses, medical personnel. What do you think?
HENDERSON: Well, you know, this is a trip that the President, in some ways, had to make, right? This was a national tragedy, first in Dayton and then in El Paso. You see there that some people have mixed feelings about him going. Beto O'Rourke, for instance, didn't want him to go there, you know.
And I think that sort of the bookend (ph) of this is that he was there in February, right, and he was demonizing that community, demonizing migrants, making the case for the border wall, essentially saying the border wall made this place safer when that wasn't really true.
So, there was a lot of reaction when he visited in February -- 10,000 or 15,000 people showed up to protest -- and so I think there's some residual feelings from that. And I think, more than anything, they want to know what the President is going to do going forward, first, on gun control and gun legislation but, also, in terms of his rhetoric. A lot of folks there feel like he put a target on folks' back, that this was an anti-Hispanic, anti-immigrant, you know, incident, and they want to feel like -- they want to know if he's going to clean up his language going forward.
[17:35:08] BLITZER: Ryan Lizza, how tense is the President's history with the people of El Paso?
RYAN LIZZA, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, ESQUIRE: It's pretty tense because, look, the people -- I was there in January actually, in El Paso, and one of the things you learn about that community, as Beto O'Rourke has --
LIZZA: -- is very quick to point out, is people are really proud of the international character of that city. They're -- they're proud that Ciudad Juarez and El Paso really form one massive city. A lot of Mexican citizens come back across the bridge on a daily basis and work in El Paso. And what -- Trump, who obviously isn't really familiar with El Paso, has used it as a symbol of his immigration policies.
And as a test. I mean, they tested the -- they first used the policy of family separations to people who were coming in the checkpoint at El Paso and then, of course, when he came there in February and talked about the history of the wall there. There is a wall in El Paso, and it's very controversial. Not everyone in the -- in El Paso, you know, liked the fact that that wall was built there.
So, Trump has identified El Paso in a way that people there don't -- a lot of people there don't appreciate and don't see themselves. And, you know, we'll, obviously, hopefully, learn a lot more, but this person targeted El Paso for a reason. And it was only put on the political radar -- or it was put on the political radar by the President.
BLITZER: You know what, and --
LIZZA: So, there's an enormous amount of tension.
BLITZER: And that person -- that shooter's intent is clear in that -- what the FBI calls that manifesto that was posted only about 20 minutes or so before the shooting began. Susan, let's talk a little bit about the President. After leaving Dayton, on the flight to El Paso, he took to Twitter to attack Democratic lawmakers. Let me read a sentence or two.
I saw failed presidential candidates, zero percent, Sherrod Brown and Mayor Whaley -- she's the mayor of Dayton -- totally misrepresenting what took place inside of the hospital. Their news conference after I left El Paso was a fraud.
Both of them, Brown and Whaley, both acknowledged the President was warmly received when he was at the hospital. They were invited to go along with him. But what does it tell you about the President's defensive posture right now, that he would tweet like this after a very somber visit to Dayton on his way for another somber visit to El Paso?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So, these are the moments which we really do expect a president of the United States to be the president for all people after national tragedies, to sort of be the expression of national grief, to remind ourselves of our shared purpose, our common sort of identity, bring people together. Trump has never been interested in playing that role.
I think it says a lot about sort of his character and what is in his heart or isn't in his heart that he could go to these places that have experienced these absolutely horrifying events, talked to people who were wounded, talked to doctors who fought to save people's lives and watched people die, really, this incredibly somber thing, and be essentially completely unaffected by that to leave that and, essentially, turn around and start talking smack, not just about your political opponents but about the mayor of the very towns that have been sort of victimized here.
You know, it's astonishing to see. Maybe we shouldn't be surprised at this point, but, you know, I do think that this is a moment when we can say, you know, the people of Dayton, the people of El Paso deserve a -- deserve better than what the President said in those tweets.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And no slight can go unchallenged by -- from this President no matter the occasion. He feels he always has to push back. He can never be above the fray.
I wonder if what set him off was what Sherrod Brown had said at the beginning of that press conference, in which he said he challenged the President to say -- to put the background checks, to call on Mitch McConnell to reconvene the Senate and put the House-passed background checks bill on the floor this week. He said the President said we'll try to get something done.
And then he said that -- in front of a roomful of officers, he said the best thing you could to do to protect those officers is to enact an assault weapons ban. It's unclear how the President responded to that. So, perhaps, he's getting -- he felt unnerved by those comments, but Brown came across as saying these rather factually. This is what I said and this is how the President responded.
BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more we're watching. We're monitoring the President's visit to El Paso right now. There are protests in that city as well. Much more of our special coverage right after this.
[17:39:18] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: We're back with our political experts. We're watching live pictures coming in, by the way, from El Paso. The President and the first lady, they're still over at the University Medical Center meeting with first responders, hospital staff, victims and their families. We'll have special coverage of that if we see the President at all. We really didn't see him much in Dayton earlier in the day.
We did, Nia, hear a lot from the former Vice President, the Democratic presidential front-runner, Joe Biden, today. He accused the President, President Trump, of fanning the flames of white supremacy. In a blistering speech, he really went after the President. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: American presidents have stepped up in the past. George H.W. Bush renouncing his membership in the NRA. President Clinton after Oklahoma City. George W. Bush going to a mosque after 9/11. President Obama after Charleston. Presidents who led, who opposed, chose to fight for what the best of American character is about. There's deafening silence now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[17:45:03] BLITZER: What do you think, Nia?
HENDERSON: You know, this was a strong speech from Biden, echoing a lot of what we heard in different places from different presidential candidates in this field, like Cory Booker and, obviously, Beto O'Rourke. But to stand there and give this lengthy speech, you know, I think it was a real moment for Biden.
Also echoes of Hillary Clinton, right? Hillary Clinton gave a speech, I think it was in August, before the 2016 election about Donald Trump and about fears about the alt-right and whether or not he was sort of inspiring the alt-right. He's coming out, right, in calling it White nationalism, calling it White supremacy.
And I do think he's getting at a real fear among some voters, this idea that White nationalist terrorism is a threat, according to the FBI, and a threat on par with ISIS in this country. And at the same time, there's a president who seems to embolden these folks, right? I mean, the language the President has used was in this manifesto of the El Paso shooter. So, I think it was a good moment for Biden. And echoes also of his -- of his announcement, this idea that, you know, this is a fight for America's soul.
BLITZER: Yes, he did not mince any words at all, Biden.
RAJU: Yes, and the challenge for him is to keep this going.
HENDERSON: Yes. RAJU: This has been a positive few days in the way that he has
handled the aftermath of these massacres because I think it's shown his ability to show empathy. Something that the President has a difficult time doing, to understate that. But Biden has gone through a lot of tragedies himself. He's talked -- spoken in personal terms about that, and he is trying to make the case that this country is headed in the wrong direction morally.
And that's what he's trying to contrast with the President. Can he continue that on the debate stage? He's much more effective when he talks about these matters. But when he starts talking about policy, when he starts talking about his record, that's where he is vulnerable right now. But will voters overlook that? That's going to be the key question.
BLITZER: Yes. He keeps saying, Biden, he doesn't know if the country could survive four more years of President Trump, survive the way the country is right now.
BLITZER: And I guess that's a great argument to make going into a really contested battle for the Democratic presidential nomination.
LIZZA: Yes. I mean, his whole argument is that it doesn't have to be like this, we can return to normal, right? And he started his campaign -- you know, he says he got into this campaign because of Trump's comments about Charlottesville, so it really behooves Biden to be out front on this issue because this is what he says is driving him to run for president.
And the examples he used are pretty powerful. He's reminding Americans that there was a time -- and not just Democrats. But when Republican presidents at these really, really fraught moments of -- when the NRA put out a fundraising letter and called government, I believe it was FBI agents at the time, jack-booted thugs, George H.W. Bush resigned from the NRA, right?
After 9/11, when people -- when there was a real fear and -- of rising anti-Muslim sentiment, George W. Bush made a point of going to a mosque. He got a lot of criticism from the right, from some people on the right. And, you know, Biden is trying to remind Americans that you can go back to that kind of president.
BLITZER: Do you think there'll be anything, any legislation passed?
HENNESSEY: We don't see it. We don't know. And, right now, we're already seeing that the White House is sort of reaching out to the NRA, trying to get sort of the sign off rather than asking the question about what is the best policy to prevent Americans from being slaughtered by gun violence. They're interested in being perceived as doing something without angering, you know, essentially, the NRA.
BLITZER: Guys, stick around. There's more that we're doing. Our special coverage, our breaking news coverage will continue right after this. [17:48:36] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: The breaking news. The President and the first lady, they're in El Paso right now. They're meeting with survivors, hospital staff, first responders at the University Medical Center there. We're watching that very closely. Meanwhile, Beto O'Rourke, the Democratic presidential candidate who used to represent El Paso in the U.S. Congress, is among those who say the President is not welcome in El Paso.
CNN's Ryan Nobles spoke with the former Texas congressman earlier today. Ryan, tell us more about Beto O'Rourke's message to the President.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. We've been spending most of the day with Beto O'Rourke. He just finished speaking to a big rally here that's essentially counter- programming to President Trump's visit here to El Paso. And you're right, he's been very clear that President Trump, in his mind, was not welcomed here to El Paso.
And earlier today, I asked Congressman O'Rourke if he thought it was productive to continue to engage with the President on this level and then, also, what it means for his future as a presidential candidate. This is what the former congressman had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can't back down, not a single one of us. Not this community, a community that he has vilified and demonized since his maiden speech for the highest office in the land when he talked about Mexican immigrants, so many of whom have found a home here in El Paso, though they commit crimes at far lower rates than those who were born in this country.
He called them rapists and criminals, has sought to make this country afraid of us, has sought to keep us down. We will not allow him to do that. We will proudly stand together, for one another and for this country. And that's what I'm doing with my community right now.
NOBLES: OK, I know you said you're frustrated by Mitch McConnell. There are Texas Democrats that are suggesting that, perhaps, you should run for the Senate instead of running for president. Is there any part of you that thinks, perhaps, the who expedient way to get these drug -- or these gun laws in place is for you to put another Democrat in a Senate seat and do it from a state like Texas?
[17:55:08] O'ROURKE: No part of me, right now, is thinking about politics, is thinking about any campaign or election. All of me is with and thinking about this community, and so I'm going to be here to be with my home town and to do anything I can to be helpful. And so that's where we're going to keep the focus.
NOBLES: Perhaps you'll have the time (ph), real quick, very --
O'ROURKE: Yes, thank you. (END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBLES: So, as you can see there, Beto O'Rourke does not want to talk about politics right now. And as it stands, he has no plans to return to the campaign trail. In fact, he told us just a few minutes ago that he plans to travel to Juarez in the next few days to visit with some of the victims and their families there.
His focus, Wolf, right now, is on this community, his hometown, his friends and family that he knows that were impacted by this tragedy. The last think he's -- thing he's thinking about is his presidential campaign. But his campaign did tell me that, at this point, his campaign will go forward when they feel the time is right, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Ryan Nobles on the scene for us. Ryan, thanks very much. And stay with us, we're continuing to monitor President Trump's visit to El Paso that's underway right now as well as the protests against him.
[18:00:07] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news.