NEWARK, NJ – Senator Bob Menendez joined a national chorus of critics blaming President Donald Trump’s harsh rhetoric on race for a shooting in El Paso, Texas that targeted Latinos.
Flanked by First Lady Tammy Murphy and members of the New Jersey Coalition of Latino Pastors and Ministers, Menendez told a congregation at the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Newark on Friday that Trump legitimized the “fringe white nationalist elements of our society.”
“President Trump has yet to learn that when you are president of the United States, your words matter,” Menendez said.
The New Jersey Democrat also called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the legislative body back to Washington to vote on an array of gun bills, including those that focused on expanding background checks, limiting the amount of rounds a magazine can hold and restoring an assault weapons ban.
Trump told the nation on Monday after back-to-back mass shootings over the weekend in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio that he blamed mental illness over lax gun laws.
On Sunday, a shooting at a Walmart in El Paso killed 22 people and wounded 24. Critics of Trump have partially blamed his harsh rhetoric on immigration and race after police linked an anti-immigration manifesto to the suspect that was posted online just before the attack. Witnesses have said the suspect was targeting Latinos in the store.
The night before, a shooter opened fire in a popular nightlife district in Dayton, Ohio that killed 9 people.
State Senator Teresa Ruiz acknowledged Newark’s own problems with gun violence.
“You’re sitting in a city where bullets cripple our community on a daily basis,” Ruiz said.
The Newark Democrat also went after Trump before the congregation, saying the commander-in-chief does not acknowledge the power he holds to change laws that could help prevent mass shootings around the country.
“New Jersey has stepped up time and time again,” Ruiz said. “This entire country has to step up.”
Murphy touted the state’s gun laws, which are some of the strictest in the country.
Gov. Phil Murphy has made further tightening gun laws a marquee of his administration. Last month, he signed a package of bills that includes expanding the list of crimes preventing a person from owning a gun.
The first lady said that despite New Jersey’s tough gun laws, mass shootings still have the potential to happen here because of “a national gun problem that we have never dealt with.”
“If we don’t want what happened in El Paso to happen in Paterson, then we have to do something new,” Murphy said.