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Mick Mulvaney denies Trump has downplayed threat of white nationalism

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney defended President Trump on ABC's "This Week" against allegations that some of his past comments have downplayed the rising threat of white nationalism in the U.S., and that his divisive rhetoric is helping fuel violent domestic attacks like the shooting in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday.

JON KARL: "Back in March he was asked directly, do you see today white nationalism as a rising threat around the world? His answer: 'I don't really. I think it's a small group of people that have a very serious problem.' He downplayed the threat of white nationalism. Was he wrong to do that?"
MULVANEY: "No, I don't believe that's downplaying it, look at what he said. Read the last sentence. I don't have it in front of me. 'This is a small group of people' and finish the sentence."
KARL: "I'll read the whole thing again. He was asked directly, do you see today white nationalism as a rising threat around the world? His answer: 'I don't really. I think it's a small group of people that have a very, very serious problem."
MULVANEY: "Look, this is not the same as international nuclear weapons. This is a serious problem, there's no question about it. But they are sick, sick people and the president knows that. Again, Jon, I don't think it's fair to try and lay this at the feet of the president. There are people in this country this morning thinking that President Trump was happy by this. That's a sad, sad state of this nation. He's angry. He's upset. He wants it to stop. I don't think it's at all fair to sit here and say that he doesn't think that white nationalism is bad for the nation. These are sick people. You cannot be a white supremacist and be normal in the head."

Why it matters: Some evidence from authorities indicate the mass shooting in El Paso on Saturday, which resulted in at least 20 deaths, could be prosecuted as a hate crime. Police are investigating a racist online post that appeared just before the shooting, per AP. The shooter allegedly told police after the shooting that he "wanted to shoot as many Mexicans as possible," according to ABC News.

  • A number of 2020 candidates and high-profile Democrats accused President Trump of fueling racism and violence in the aftermath of the shooting. Beto O'Rourke said on CNN's "State of the Union" that Trump is a "white nationalist" and that "this cannot be open for debate."

2020 candidate Julián Castro responded to Mulvaney's defensive stance in a follow-up interview on ABC:

  • "It's so unfortunate that not only our president but his administration can't rise up to the challenge of leadership in these times."
  • "There's one person that's responsible directly for that shooting in El Paso and that's the shooter. At the same time, as our national leader you have a role to play in either fanning the flames in division or bringing Americans of different backgrounds together."

Go deeper: What you can and must do to help stop mass shootings