President Joe Biden is facing pressure to couch the weekend's Buffalo, New York, shooting in the harshest possible terms and link it to his political opponents as some Republicans point fingers at others in the wake of the attack.
Biden is expected to meet family members, first responders, and community leaders in Buffalo on Tuesday after 10 people were killed in a supermarket shooting spree. The incident is being investigated as a hate crime, but Democrats are encouraging Biden to talk tougher, and reporters are needling the White House on naming and shaming people they say promote the so-called Great Replacement theory.
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All public figures, not only Biden, have "an obligation" to condemn the Buffalo shooting as domestic terrorism in the same way former President Bill Clinton did after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, according to Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright. In particular, Seawright pointed to Biden's claim that his 2020 campaign was prompted by the 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia, violence and his administration's framing of white supremacy as domestic terrorism.
"Words do matter," he told the Washington Examiner. "Words matter in terms of the healing process and how we move forward. It is an act of malpractice for any leader — a black or white, Democrat or Republican — not to call these things for what they are because otherwise, it gives a license for these things to be repeatable."
A House Republican aide ripped Democrats for their "never let a crisis go to waste" attitude. Although the staffer recognized Biden's "consoler in chief" responsibilities, he denounced an "egregious" and "unbecoming" double standard concerning the Buffalo shooting. He specifically cited a black man driving into a Waukesha, Wisconsin, Christmas parade crowd in 2021.
"Everyone in America should condemn the horrific attack in Buffalo as we did in the South Carolina church shooting," the source said. "What is destructive to our nation is the political race-baiting that seeks to focus on white solely inspired hate crimes and ignoring black-inspired hate crimes.”
Clinton's Oklahoma City comments were also criticized at the time for politicizing the incident and trying to use the attack against GOP opponents. Republicans had just won control of Congress in the previous elections, including their first House majority in 40 years.
Biden's first Buffalo shooting statement amplified the importance of countering domestic terrorism.
"We still need to learn more about the motivation for today’s shooting as law enforcement does its work, but we don’t need anything else to state a clear moral truth: A racially motivated hate crime is abhorrent to the very fabric of this nation," he wrote. "Any act of domestic terrorism, including an act perpetrated in the name of a repugnant white nationalist ideology, is antithetical to everything we stand for in America."
He added that "hate must have no safe harbor. We must do everything in our power to end hate-fueled domestic terrorism."
Yet Biden tempered his rhetoric a day later during his National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service remarks.
"We're still gathering the facts, but already, the Justice Department has stated publicly that it is investigating the matter as a hate crime, a racially motivated act of white supremacy and violent extremism," he said. "As they do, we must all work together to address the hate that remains a stain on the soul of America. Our hearts are heavy once again, but our resolve must never, ever waver."
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas's reticence to say "domestic terrorism" during a Monday press availability underscored the change.
"'Domestic terrorism' is a legal term, and because the investigation is ongoing, I won't employ that term," he told reporters.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre later touted Biden's broader anti-domestic terrorism policies, declining to clarify whether the president would support the Justice Department seeking the death penalty. Attorney General Merrick Garland once investigated and prosecuted the Oklahoma City case.
Jean-Pierre similarly dismissed pressure to identify publicly people accused of pedaling the replacement theory. The Buffalo shooter referenced what he described as the systematic replacement of white people by minorities in his 180-page manifesto.
"Any one person, it doesn't matter who they are — who spews this type of hate, hatred — we're going to call it out," she said during her first briefing in the role. "Once you get into calling out people's names, then you move away from that issue."
Biden's approach to the Buffalo shooting coincides with Trump-critical Republicans scrutinizing top members' response to the tragedy.
"The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism," Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) tweeted. "History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse. @GOP leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them."
The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism. History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse. @GOP leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) May 16, 2022
Cheney's fellow Jan. 6 committee Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), named Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY). Stefanik, who replaced Cheney as the third-ranking House Republican, has faced criticism over past political ads. Her spokesman said in a statement that she "never advocated for any racist position or made a racist statement" but does oppose "mass amnesty for illegal immigrants and Joe Biden's wide-open border."
Did you know: @EliseStefanik pushes white replacement theory? The #3 in the house GOP. @Liz_Cheney got removed for demanding truth. @GOPLeader should be asked about this.— Adam Kinzinger (@AdamKinzinger) May 14, 2022
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Black Republican lawmakers also spoke out against the Buffalo shooting.
"We must condemn all acts of violence and hate," South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott wrote. "The threads of racism left in the fabric of our country need to be cut out."
The horror that took place in Buffalo is heartbreaking and saddening. We must condemn all acts of violence and hate. The threads of racism left in the fabric of our country need to be cut out.— Tim Scott (@SenatorTimScott) May 15, 2022
Praying for the victims and their families during this difficult time. 🙏🏽
Florida Rep. Byron Donalds added, "The heinous actions of this deranged murderer speak to the very worst of humanity which has no place in America."
Erika & I join the nation in mourning the innocent victims of the horrific & hate-filled attack in Buffalo. The heinous actions of this deranged murderer speak to the very worst of humanity which has no place in America. Let’s never forget those we lost.— Congressman Byron Donalds (@RepDonaldsPress) May 15, 2022