Watch Anderson Cooper’s full interview with Joe Biden on AC360 at 8 p.m. ET.
Former Vice President Joe Biden said Monday that President Donald Trump’s rhetoric assailing immigrants and minorities has emboldened white supremacists and pledged to crack down on assault weapons if elected to the White House.
“This is a president who has said things no other president has said since Andrew Jackson. Nobody’s said anything like the things he’s saying,” Biden told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in an exclusive interview, disputing any suggestion that Trump’s rhetoric “doesn’t contribute to or legitimate or make it more rational” for racists to speak out.
Biden also accused Trump of playing a “dangerous game” with his words, which have, in the former vice president’s description, “contributed to, at a minimum, of dumbing down the way in which we as a society talk about one another.”
“We’ve always brought the country together. ‘We the people, we hold these truths to be self-evident.’ (Trump) flies in the face of all the basic things that we’ve never really met the standard (of, but) we’ve never abandoned it before,” Biden said. “He looks like he’s just flat abandoned the theory that we are one people.”
Biden’s remarks come amid a storm of newly sharpened criticism directed at Trump after two mass shootings – in El Paso, Texas, and then Dayton, Ohio – this weekend. The alleged gunman in Texas, a 21-year-old white supremacist, killed at least 22 people. The Democratic presidential candidates have increasingly drawn a straight line between Trump’s past comments and the rise of racist attacks. Federal officials are treating the El Paso shooting as a case of domestic terrorism – something Biden said should be treated the same way as international terrorism.
“What’s the difference?” he said. “There’s more acts by domestic terrorists today, and the past years, than there has been by foreign terrorists.”
But Biden stopped short of matching some of his primary rivals’ descriptions of Trump himself, refusing to weigh in on the President’s own beliefs.
“Clearly, his actions have done nothing to do anything other than encourage this kind of behavior,” Biden said.
He added, “I’m not sure what this guy believes, if he believes anything that’s just not opportunity – an opportunist to be able to continue to maintain his base and to divide the country.”
He also responded to the idea – put forth by some Republicans – that video games are to blame for mass shootings.
“I’ve talked about it too, but it’s not – it is not healthy to have these games teaching kids that, you know, this dispassionate notion that you can shoot somebody and just, you know, sort of blow their brains out,” the former vice president said, before qualifying his remark.
“It’s not in and of itself the reason why we have this carnage on our streets,” he added.
Biden on Monday also doubled down on his support for a new assault weapons ban and suggested his administration would try to create a buyback program to get those weapons off the street.
Asked what he would tell gun owners worried a Biden administration would be coming for their weapons, the former vice president jumped in to answer: “Bingo! You’re right, if you have an assault weapon.”
“The fact of the matter is (assault weapons) should be illegal. Period,” Biden said. “The Second Amendment doesn’t say you can’t restrict the kinds of weapons people can own. You can’t buy a bazooka. You can’t have a flame-thrower.”
Biden was clear that he would not seek to confiscate privately owned or purchased guns, instead advocating for “a national buyback program” intended to get the weapons “off the street.”
“That’s not walking into their home, knocking on their doors, going through their gun cabinets, et cetera,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Biden tweeted out a clip from Trump’s speech this morning from the White House. The President asked the country to “condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy” in his remarks, but Biden said the words were hollow.
“Let’s be very clear. You use the office of the presidency to encourage and embolden white supremacy. You use words like ‘infestation’ and ‘invasion’ to talk about human beings,” Biden wrote. “We won’t truly speak with one voice against hatred until your voice is no longer in the White House.”
Other 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, like New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso native, have spoken even more forcefully.
“We have a President of the United States who is savagely fraying the bonds of our nation by speaking consistently words of hatred, words of division, words of demonization and demagoguery,” Booker told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday.
O’Rourke, who returned to El Paso after the shooting, lashed out at Trump – and the media’s characterizations of his rhetoric – following an emotional hometown vigil.
“I mean, connect the dots about what he’s been doing in this country,” O’Rourke said of the President. “He’s not tolerating racism, he’s promoting racism. He’s not tolerating violence, he’s inciting racism and violence in this country.”