In a series of swipes against President Trump on Sunday, Democrats called on him to defend Muslims publicly after a white supremacist killed 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand, suggesting the president’s rhetoric was partly to blame.
The lawmakers, along with several Sunday show hosts from various networks, questioned the president’s denial that attacks motivated by white supremacy are on the rise, citing statistics from the Southern Poverty Law Center that claim more than 80 people have been killed in the U.S. and Canada from 2014 to 2018 by white nationalists.
The critics pointed to the shooting last year killing 11 Jewish people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pennsylvania, the 2015 shooting in Charleston killing nine black people at a Bible study, and the recent attack in New Zealand against Muslims.
“We have to confront the fact that there is a rising white supremacy, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim attitude. The president uses language often that is very similar,” Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, said the president needs to publicly defend Muslims, but stopped short of blaming him for the killings. “At the very least, he is dividing people,” she said during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate’s comments come as Scott Brown, the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand, said he had not spoken to Mr. Trump about the white nationalist attack, which occurred Friday and was live streamed on Facebook.
“There is no need for me to specifically speak to the president,” Mr. Brown told CNN, adding Mr. Trump spoke directly to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
He also dismissed the terrorist being motivated by the president’s rhetoric.
“I am the president’s representative,” Mr. Brown said. “I condemn racism.”
Authorities have arrested one person, a 28-year-old white Australian named Brenton Harrison Tarrant, in the attack.
He published a lengthy online manifesto declaring his intent to target Muslims and stating his reason. The manifesto said he welcomed the U.S. president as “a symbol of renewed white identity,” but “as a policymaker and leader? Dear god no.” His muddled screed also described himself as an admirer of communist China and an “environmental fascist.”
On Friday, his Facebook account livestreamed the attack for 17 minutes.
The president has since come under scrutiny for downplaying the rise of white nationalism around the world, telling reporters Friday that “it’s a small group of people.”
White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney also defended the president Sunday, saying the attack in New Zealand was “a tragic thing.”
“I want to push back against this idea that every time something bad happens everywhere around the world, folks that don’t like Donald Trump seem to blame it on Donald Trump,” Mr. Mulvaney told CBS.
“I disagree there is a causal link between Donald Trump becoming president and this happening in New Zealand,” he added.
Ms. Klobuchar, though, was not the only 2020 Democrat to chastise the president.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat, tweeted Friday the president has been covering for radicals.
“Time and time again, this president has embraced and emboldened white supremacists — and instead of condemning racist terrorists, he covers for them. This isn’t normal or acceptable. We have to be better than this,” she tweeted.
And Sen. Cory A. Booker, New Jersey Democrat, took time Friday shortly after the attack to blame anti-Muslim beliefs for the mass shooting.
“The rising tide of white supremacy and Islamophobia around the globe must be met with our determination to work against hate,” Mr. Booker said.
Despite downplaying the spread of white supremacy, Mr. Trump did offer assistance to Ms. Ardern. “I told the prime minister that the United States is with them all the way. One hundred percent, whatever they need, we will be there,” Mr. Trump said.
• Douglas Ernst contributed to this report.