The month of October was bookended by two national tragedies: the mass shooting in Las Vegas, which left 59 dead and over 500 injured, and a lone wolf terror attack in New York City, where a 29-year-old male barreled down a popular New York City bike path, killing eight and injuring over a dozen.
The cause of the incidents differed. Authorities immediately concluded the attack in New York City was terrorism, while the motives of the Las Vegas shooter are still unknown. The death toll in Las Vegas was also significantly higher.
But both of these incidents, which came so close to each other, sparked discussions about policy, the first about gun control and the second about terrorism and immigration, since the suspect was identified as an immigrant from Uzbekistan.
President Trump and the White House reacted very differently to both of these incidents, however, declining to weigh in on policy after Las Vegas, and then immediately doing so following the New York City attack.
The following is an overview of these separate reactions in the 24 hours after each incident unfolded.
The immediate aftermath
Las Vegas: Trump tweeted approximately five hours after the overnight attack: “My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting. God bless you!” The White House also told reporters that Trump had been briefed on the attack and the Administration was monitoring the situation closely and offered support to Las Vegas officials and keeping those affected “in our thoughts and prayers.”
New York: The White House told reporters Kelly had briefed Trump and that thoughts and prayers are with those affected. Four hours after the attack, the White House sent out an official statement from the President offering support to law enforcement in their investigation and thanking the first responders.
But during this time frame, Trump also sends out a series of tweets, in which he called the suspect “a very sick and deranged person,” railed against ISIS being allowed to enter the United States and offered condolences to the victims.
At approximately 9:30 p.m., Trump tweeted for a fourth time: “I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!”
12 to 20 hours after the attacks
Las Vegas: President Trump addressed the nation from the White House the morning after the mass shooting. In a brief speech, he thanked First Responders, called for national unity and directed flags to fly at half-staff in honor of the victims. “Our unity cannot be shattered by evil. Our bonds cannot be broken by violence,” Trump told Americans. “And though we feel such great anger at the senseless murder of our fellow citizens, it is our love that defines us today and always will – forever.”
The White House planned a moment of silence for the victims, and Trump subsequently said during his meeting with Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha that he would visit Las Vegas. The White House also said Trump had spoken with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo.
New York: Trump linked the attack to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, arguing that he was the driving force behind the diversity lottery program, which the Department of Homeland Security said was the program under which the suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, entered the United States in 2010. (While Schumer did support the measure creating this program nearly 30 years ago, he also sought to end it in recent years as part of a bipartisan immigration reform.) Trump tweeted two more times, apparently citing the Fox News morning show “Fox and Friends,” and describing how he wants to replace the lottery system with merit based immigration. “We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter),” he wrote on Twitter.
Trump then gave remarks before a Cabinet meeting, where he reiterated these sentiments after offering condolences to the victims of the attacks. “We’re going to as quickly as possible get rid of chain migration and go to a merit-based system,” Trump says. “We have to get much tougher. We have to get much smarter. And we have to get much less politically correct.” Trump also says he would consider sending the suspect to Guantanamo Bay.
The first White House briefing after the attacks
Las Vegas: White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders choked up during the White House briefing when she recalled stories from Las Vegas. At that point, several Democratic lawmakers had begun issuing calls for more stringent gun control regulations. When asked about the White House’s position on this issue, Sanders said it was not the time to discuss policy and that any suggestions are premature. “Today is a day for consoling the survivors and mourning those we lost,” she tells reporters. There’s a time and place for a political debate, but now is the time to unite as a country.”
New York: As she did with Las Vegas, Sanders opened her daily briefing by offering thoughts and prayers for the victims, highlighting the resilience of New Yorkers and praising the heroic actions of Ryan Nash, the police officer who shot the suspect. But she also quickly dove into policy implications, arguing that this incident showcases the need to heighten security measures for people seeking to enter the United States. “We must vet those seeking entry to the United States thoroughly,” she said.
The first question for Sanders was about the discrepancy between the White House’s reluctance to discuss policy after Las Vegas, when gun control was on the table, and its willingness to discuss it after New York City, when immigration is the issue at hand. Sanders denied any change. “This wasn’t about going the political route,” she said. “This is something that, frankly, the President has been talking about for a long time. This isn’t a new policy, this isn’t a new position, this isn’t a new conversation. The President has been talking about extreme vetting and the need for that, for the purpose of protecting this country since he was a candidate.”
She also disputed that Trump had blamed Schumer.
“The President has not blamed Senator Schumer and doesn’t believe he is responsible for the attack,” she said.
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