Politics Chat: Breaking Down The Political Responses To The Atlanta Shootings

Mar 21, 2021
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

How to talk about the shootings, the victims, the suspects and the media coverage have all been dominant themes in this tough week because there is also a political divide in how these killings are seen. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now. Good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A horrific event, Mara.

LIASSON: Yes, absolutely horrible.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. And it does filter, though, through this political lens. We've seen a lot of the Democratic response highlighting former President Trump's anti-Asian rhetoric. But that kind of rhetoric continued post-Trump, we have to acknowledge, you know, making Asians seem a possible threat just because of their home country has been attacked during the border crisis. I'm going to play you Republican Representative Carlos Gimenez speaking to Morning Edition this past week just before the attack in Atlanta.

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CARLOS GIMENEZ: Our Customs and Border Patrol agents are saying that not only are they seeing people from Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala, et cetera, coming in, but they're also seeing people from Iran, they have a lot of Chinese nationals are coming in who are paying $35,000 a head to be transported across the border.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what has been the Republican response to the attack now?

LIASSON: We should also point out that Gimenez, who's a Republican, voted for the DREAM Act last week in Congress, so immigration is very complicated.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is.

LIASSON: But in general, while Democrats are talking about the attack, the racist and misogynist aspects of it, Republicans are focusing on the it-was-one-crazy-guy theory. And in Georgia, Representative Barry Loudermilk, Republican who represents the district where the shootings happened, told Politico that even though there had been an increase in the attacks against Asian Americans, this particular shooting didn't seem to be related to that. He said, quote, "this is just a mental health issue. It's tragic." He seemed to be echoing the Cherokee County Sheriff's Captain Jay Baker, who told reporters that the alleged shooter was, quote, "having a really bad day," and it's since been found that his Facebook page - a Facebook page seemingly belonging to Baker featured posts promoting racist anti-Asian T-shirts. But on the whole, Republicans and conservative media are far more focused on the situation at the border than they are on this attack.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right, the southern border, which has become a huge challenge for this administration. We are two months into the Biden administration, a month and a half since the head of Homeland Security has been confirmed, and yet they own this now.

LIASSON: They absolutely own this now. We are seeing an uptick as we see every spring at the border. But remember, Joe Biden sent two messages that were contradictory. One is don't come yet. And two, we're going to be more welcoming in our immigration policy. So guess which one of those resonated with desperate people in Central America? Of course, the second one. And this is a problem that Biden has to solve. On the other hand, it's a political weapon for Republicans because immigration is one of the few issues that still unites them as they go through their identity crisis as a party. And it has worked. It's been very effective for the Republicans as a political weapon to energize their base and to energize Republican-leaning independents. So it's a huge political issue.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's a huge political issue. We saw the Democratic Party-controlled House last week pass two bills trying to address some of immigration, giving DREAMers and farm workers paths to citizenship; DREAMers, of course, being undocumented children brought to the U.S. and raised here. Do these bills stand a chance in the Senate?

LIASSON: Not right now. The influx of asylum-seekers at the border makes this a very inopportune moment for those bills to be going to the Senate. One of the co-sponsors of the DREAM Act, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, said even he can't vote for it as long as there's a crisis at the border. He said, quote, "I'm not in support of legalizing one person until you're in control of the border and there is no pathway for anything right now."

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Of course, things that are a priority right now are many. Is there anything that Democrats and Republicans can maybe come together on?

LIASSON: Well, the next big priority for the White House is infrastructure - that's the build back better agenda. And infrastructure has always in the past been bipartisan. But it's definitely in President Biden's interest to be seen as cooperating, trying as hard as possible to get bipartisan consensus because he's made a campaign promise to not just make politics more civil but to actually work across the aisle. And some of those suburban Republican voters who voted for him and made the difference for him want him to do that. On the other hand, we don't know if Republicans have a lot of political incentives to cooperate because they answer to a smaller, more homogenous partisan base.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you very much.

LIASSON: You're welcome. Thank you, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.