RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Part of a president's job is to console the nation after tragedy strikes but also specific communities and the victims themselves. That's what President Trump will attempt to do today. This morning, he's in Ohio, where nine people were killed in a mass shooting over the weekend. Then the president heads to El Paso, Texas, which is trying to put itself back together after a gunman opened fire at a Walmart Saturday. Twenty-two people there have died.
Not everyone is welcoming the president. In fact, many blame him for inciting a racist culture of division. Here's Texas Congresswoman Veronica Escobar.
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VERONICA ESCOBAR: Words have consequences. And the president has made my community and my people the enemy. He has told the country that we are people to be feared, people to be hated.
MARTIN: The congressman - congresswoman, rather, speaking on MSNBC.
NPR correspondent Franco Ordoñez is at the White House and joins me now. Franco, how's the president responding to critics like the congresswoman?
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Well, the president spoke with a few of us reporters this morning on his way out the door to Marine One. He says he's getting hit from both the left and the right. He's really pushing back, saying presidential candidates, local politicians are trying to score points on the tragedy while he says he's trying to turn down the rhetoric.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think we have toned it down. We've been hitting - we've been getting hit left and right from everybody. And many of the people, I don't know - a couple of people from Texas - political people from Texas that aren't doing very well.
ORDOÑEZ: He says it's unfair. He argues that, you know, these are mentally disturbed people and that he shouldn't be held responsible for their actions, much like he didn't hold - the White House didn't hold Bernie Sanders responsible for actions of one of his supporters when he shot a lawmaker at a baseball practice.
MARTIN: Although we should just point out - the president says that he is ratcheting the rhetoric down when, in fact, he is stirring things up with presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke, tweeting out negative statements about him. Does the president intend to alter his message as a result of this criticism?
ORDOÑEZ: You know, as you noted, it does not appear that way. We asked whether he's going to keep using this similar rhetoric on immigration. He said this.
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TRUMP: I think illegal immigration is a terrible thing for this country. I think you have to come in legally. Ideally, you have to come in through merit. We need people coming in because we have many companies coming into our country. They're pouring in. And I think illegal immigration is a very bad thing for our country.
ORDOÑEZ: And you pointed out how he lashed out at Beto O'Rourke. O'Rourke is one of the politicians who has blamed the president, said he shares some of the responsibility for fostering some of the anti-illegal immigration climate talking that led to this shooting. Trump tweeted this morning that O'Rourke should be quiet, and he said he has a phony name to indicate Hispanic heritage.
MARTIN: Did the president talk at all about the issue of gun control?
ORDOÑEZ: It came up. President Trump said there is a strong appetite for background checks, but he did say a ban on assault weapons is unlikely. He said there's just no appetite in Congress for that. He promises a lot of work is being done, but he says, you know - and he says he's going to convince lawmakers, both Democratic and Republican, to do the right things, even if they don't want to.
MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez, thanks so much.
ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.