Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Monday sharply criticized President Donald Trump’s response to the deadly mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, saying Trump is partly responsible for the rise in hate and violence.
“When he goes around getting people to scream and hate, bad things happen and you saw the results here,” said Bloomberg. He went on to say that the President “should be unifying and instead he is exciting people, inciting people.”
Bloomberg, who has been openly flirting with a Democratic presidential bid in 2020, told CNN in an exclusive interview in Minnesota that there are consequences to words.
“The President’s words matter more than anybody else and his job, I’ve always thought, is to be a unifier, not to be the leader of a party, but to be the leader of this country,” Bloomberg said.
The President has continued attacking the news media in the wake of the Pittsburgh shooting, as well last week’s series of pipe bomb mailings to prominent Democrats and CNN.
Bloomberg said “perhaps” Trump did not understand he should seek to unify people, but stressed repeatedly in the interview that he believed Trump was using his position in an irresponsible way.
“You don’t use the bully pulpit as the President of the United States to rile up people and say things as a joke or as a campaign promise,” Bloomberg said. “That’s not what the President should be doing. The President’s words matter. He’s not an average person. He’s the President, and with the presidency comes an obligation to set a moral standard for this country and to unite people.”
Bloomberg was careful, however, not to lay blame on Republicans generally. “Not every Republican is a racist,” he said. “Not every Republican agrees with the President.”
When asked whether House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy should have sent and subsequently deleted a tweet which suggested that three billionaires (Bloomberg, George Soros and Tom Steyer) were buying the midterms, Bloomberg responded: “I think he shouldn’t. The good thing is nobody knows who he is.”
Bloomberg also said there are “an awful lot of Democrats that don’t stand up.”
“There’s plenty of blame to go around this country on both sides,” Bloomberg said. “But I do think that if you look, the Republicans have been in control of the House and the Senate. They have not exercised their constitutional responsibility to provide a check and balance on the White House.”
Yet to decide on 2020
Bloomberg declined to say if he will run for president in 2020, saying he is focused on the November 6 midterms.
The former New York mayor recently re-registered as a Democrat and has become an open antagonist of Trump heading into the midterms. The billionaire has pumped more than $110 million into efforts to support Democratic candidates around the country.
Bloomberg said that he would continue to consider a run even if former Vice President Joe Biden – who Bloomberg described as a “competent American” – jumps in the race.
“I have a case to present, if I’d like to present it,” Bloomberg said. “And if the public likes it, that’s fine, and if they don’t, that’s what freedom of choice is.”
Bloomberg said if he were to run, he would present his record as “somebody who actually does things” and hopes voters would be receptive.
Bloomberg said while he thought “a large percentage” of Democrats would welcome him in the primaries, though he said he rejects some of the party’s positions.
“I don’t agree with everything that the Democratic establishment has dictated as their positions,” Bloomberg said. “I come from a world of being practical. … Having grand schemes that we probably can’t afford, that a lot of people wouldn’t like, is a good way to elect Donald Trump to another four years.”
Calls for gun control
Bloomberg, who has increasingly tied his public profile to gun control, sat down with CNN alongside Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
Bloomberg has been advocating for more gun safety laws for years. He formalized the effort with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino in 2006. The two created a coalition with other mayors around the country. That group eventually morphed into Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that is backed by multiple donors of which Bloomberg is largest.
Earlier Monday, Bloomberg publicly called for stricter gun control during an appearance in Detroit at CityLab, an event put on with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
He made the same appeal in St. Paul, Minnesota at an event for Moms Demand Action.
“If more guns and fewer gun laws made America safer, we would be the safest country in the world,” Watts said. “Instead we have a 25 times higher gun homicide rate than any other high-income country. It’s time for us as a country to stop letting gun lobbyists to write our nation’s gun laws.”
Bloomberg said he was recently in Pittsburgh and met with the mayor and community groups, including Moms Demand Action.
“It was really quite amazing, the enthusiasm they had and how they were so convinced that we were making progress – and we are,” Bloomberg said. “But then we know that 11 people were killed a few days ago, six were injured at the Tree of Life Synagogue, and our hearts really have to go out to all of them.”
In voicing support for stronger gun measures, Bloomberg said, “Nobody’s trying to take away anybody’s guns.”
“We should have reasonable background checks,” Bloomberg added. “And don’t sell guns to minors. Don’t sell guns to people with psychiatric problems. Don’t sell guns to people that have criminal records.”
Bloomberg said he thought local and state governments have had to step in on the issue “because the federal government is just hopeless.”
His comments on Monday came after Trump said shortly after the shooting that there should have been an armed guard in the synagogue. Trump has likewise suggested arming teachers following school shootings, a position embraced by the National Rifle Association.
CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to reflect that Bloomberg was referring to Moms Demand Action in his Detroit remarks.
CNN’s Laura Dolan and Casey Riddle contributed to this report.