President Obama Speaks In Orlando After Meeting With Victims' Families

Jun 16, 2016
Originally published on June 16, 2016 6:39 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Obama and Vice President Biden were in Orlando today, a city still trying to come to grips with Sunday's massacre at a nightclub. The president and vice president met with survivors and the families of those who died.

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BARACK OBAMA: These families could be our families. In fact, they are our family. They're part of the American family. Today the vice president and I told them on behalf of the American people that our hearts are broken, too and that we stand with you and that we are here for you and that we are remembering those who you loved so deeply.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We're going to hear more of what the president had to say in Orlando and get some thoughts from two people who have been watching them respond to mass shootings throughout his two terms. Joining us by Skype is Corey Ealons. He's a senior vice president at VOX Global, a Washington public relations firm. Before that, he was a communications adviser to President Obama. Thank you for being with us.

COREY EALONS: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: And here in the studio is NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So this attack happened on Sunday. That day the president spoke about it. Again he addressed it on Monday. Each time he made a big push for gun control legislation, and we heard the same thing again today.

HORSLEY: That's right, Ari. You know, there are so many times the president has had to make a visit like this and comfort grieving families. He did it after the Aurora movie theater shooting. He did it after the school shooting at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn.

And you know, he said, while the motives in all these mass shootings may be different - sometimes it's hate or terror; sometimes it's just a disturbed individual - he said while the motives might differ, the instruments are remarkably similar. It's these assault-style weapons. And each time, he says the families ask him, why does this keep happening? And today he challenged lawmakers to make those dangerous weapons harder to come by.

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OBAMA: And if we don't act, we will keep seeing more massacres like this because we'll be choosing to allow them to happen. We will have said, we don't care enough to do something about it.

HORSLEY: Now, the president said the U.S. will also be resolute in going after foreign terrorist organizations and trying to root out hateful ideologies. But he pointed out that both the shooter in the Orlando case and in the more recent one in San Bernardino, Calif., were both homegrown.

MCEVERS: And Corey Ealons, how has Obama's plea on changing gun laws changed since the president first took office?

EALONS: Well, if you don't know anything about the first set of speeches he gave when these types of incidents began early on in his presidency, he would give them in a way that really focused on just healing the nation and healing the community and consoling the families.

As they progressed over time, the conversations became more political and, dare I say, more angry, more frustrated with the lack of progress on this issue in Washington and, quite frankly, the immovability of the members of Congress and other policy leaders to do something about this.

And if you heard anything in his remarks today, what he continued to hammer on is, we can do something about this. He talked about how we can do something about the amount of damage these people do, whether they are designed terrorists or whether they are deranged individuals. We can do something here to stop this carnage. We just need to act.

SHAPIRO: And Scott, the president is not the only one making this case right now.

HORSLEY: This week we've seen the Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump talking about working with the NRA to tweak the law that allows folks who are on terror watch lists to buy weapons. Yesterday we had Chris Murphy, the senator from Connecticut where Sandy Hook is located, have a lengthy speech on the Senate floor. And he stopped early this morning only after getting a promise that there will be some consideration in the Senate of new legislation.

The president said today he's glad that the Senate's willing to at least talk about this. That's where the legislation died after the Newtown massacre. And he says he hopes the House will take something up as well.

MCEVERS: And Corey, the president has talked before about how the lack of movement on this issue has been one of the most frustrating of his presidency. Do you think he could have done something different earlier? I mean, we didn't see the kind of emotion that we do now early in his presidency.

EALONS: I don't know that we can - could have expected him to do any more because ultimately the power to make changes in this area are in the legislative branch or in Congress. And so all he can do is to continue to lean in on this situation. And unfortunately these are the moments when he has the best opportunity to amplify it further.

I want to go back quickly, though, to something that Scott just said about Donald Trump and the fact that he's willing to engage with the NPR - with the NRA now. What's ironic about that is the president kind of went after Trump a little bit today in two ways.

One, he said that anybody who thinks that we can improve this situation by giving more people more guns is ridiculous. And that's just not plausible. The second thing he said is that those who continue to try to divide us along racial lines, gender lines, nationalities - they're doing us more harm than good. So you see a little bit of presidential politics creeping into his remarks today, and he hasn't been hesitant about doing the past several days.

SHAPIRO: Scott, the president also spoke specifically to the fact that this happened at a gay nightclub. Let's listen to a little bit of that.

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OBAMA: But if there was ever a moment for all of us to reflect and reaffirm our most basic beliefs that everybody counts and everybody has dignity, now's the time. It's a good time for all of us to reflect on how we treat each other and to insist on respect and equality for every human being.

SHAPIRO: You know, Scott, as I was reporting in Orlando earlier this week, people told me how much it meant to them to have a president who spoke directly to gay and lesbian people as they were victims of this.

HORSLEY: Yeah, that's right. The president has been outspoken of that since this happened on Sunday. And as Corey says, in one way, that's partly sort of a cudgel for him to go after Donald Trump and say, those who would divide us by various lines just feed the kind of dangerous mentality that we saw on Sunday.

But he also talked about how Orlando and the nation had rallied behind our fellow Americans who are part of the LGBT community in a way that has not always happened, in a way the president said might have been unimaginable just a few years ago. And he said that was reason for hope.

MCEVERS: Corey, was there anything else that stood out for you in the president's remarks today?

EALONS: Yeah, actually in the first bit that you played at the top of the segment where the president talked about, these are all of our families, that was a really interesting point for him because basically what he was saying is, you may not believe these folks were part of you or a part of our family because they were from the LGBT community, but let me be clear. They are a part of the American family, and we should all mourn for them. So I think he hit exactly the right notes that he needed to hit on all points that he needed to cover today.

SHAPIRO: That's Corey Ealons, senior vice president at the PR firm VOX Global. Before that, he served as a communications adviser to President Obama - also NPR's Scott Horsley. Thanks to both of you.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

EALONS: Thank you, Folks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.