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Kellyanne Conway won’t say if she’s pushed Trump to end ‘invasion’ rhetoric after El Paso shooting

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway speaks to reporters and members of the media outside the White House on Monday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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Hours after President Trump condemned “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” on Monday following two mass shootings that killed 31 people, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour played a clip of one of his rallies to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. At the May 8 event, Trump repeatedly described a migrant caravan headed for the U.S. border as “an invasion” — language similar to that used in a manifesto tied to the alleged gunman in El Paso’s massacre that railed against “the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

Would Trump follow the same message he urged Americans to practice and curb his own inflammatory words and tweets, Amanpour asked Conway.

Teleprompter Trump meets Twitter Trump as the president responds to mass slayings

While insisting that Trump “already did,” Conway repeatedly refused to answer whether she had advised him to tone down his language and instead criticized the question itself.

“I’m not going to allow you to equate him with the murderers,” Conway replied.

The 16-minute interview on “Amanpour” highlighted again the divide between Trump’s calls in a scripted speech for “unity, devotion and love” in the face of hatred and the divisive words he regularly uses himself on Twitter and at rallies.

The president’s recent stoking of racial animus has often been directed at minority Democratic lawmakers, including telling four freshman congresswomen — all American citizens — to “go back” to “the crime infested places from which they came” and calling Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), who is African American, “racist” while saying that his majority black district is “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” At the same May rally noted by Amanpour, Trump also smiled and joked when an audience member shouted “Shoot them!” referring to immigrants.

When Trump’s “invasion” language was mirrored in a manifesto linked to 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, the accused El Paso shooter, numerous Democrats and some Republicans condemned the president. Former president Barack Obama offered a sharp rebuke on Monday, calling for Americans to “soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiments.”

In wake of El Paso shooting, Obama calls on country to reject words ‘of any of our leaders’ that feed fear and hatred

At the start of the interview, Amanpour pressed Conway on whether Trump would heed Obama’s demands.

“I’m asking you: Will you and the president’s advisers seek to restrict his Twitter use and his other use of these words?” Amanpour asked. “What he said about Elijah Cummings, what he said about Baltimore, what he says about migrants? Yes or no, it is simple, because if it is no, it stays there at the top.”

Conway refused to detail her conversations with Trump. “No, I’m not telling you what I discuss with the president,” Conway said.

“No, I’m asking you, do you agree with that?” Amanpour rebutted. “Do you agree with it? Infestation. Invasions. These are important words. Look back in history, Kellyanne.”

Conway again deflected, so Amanpour asked, “Will he follow up on what he urged the country today to put aside racial hatred, white supremacy and just stop all this hatred?”

Conway replied that “He already did it.” She then criticized the 2020 Democratic candidates for their “really hateful language” toward the president. “Today, he showed equal parts grief, shock, anger, condolences, resolve and action.”

Still, Amanpour was hung up on one word used by Trump: invasion.

“Kellyanne, you’re his senior counselor, you are really close to him. Do you countenance those words that the president uses?” the CNN host asked. “Do you try to tell him not to use those words like ‘invasion,’ like ‘infestation,’ like all the words that he uses which are associated with hate speech?”

Conway did not give a direct answer, instead talking about former FBI director James B. Comey, former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and the Trump administration’s push for reviving the federal death penalty.

“I’d like to know if the 2020 crowd who was preening and screaming all over your network and elsewhere is going to look America in the eye and somehow tell us that the death penalty should not be considered for this monster,” Conway replied, referring to Crusius.

Amanpour chided the White House counselor, saying, “I’m trying to have a grown-up conversation with you.”

While the president did call for some measures such as the extreme risk protection orders known as “red-flag” laws, Amanpour noted that Trump did not mention guns in his address on Monday.

“Will he now discuss the prevalence and the easy use, without use of sensible gun laws, of guns like this guy had?” she asked.

Conway said that the president would have more to say this week about the massacres, and then criticized Congress and the Democratic presidential candidates once more.

“For all the grandstanding by the 2020 crowd this weekend, again getting clicks and kicks and ratings and the jollies, and some of them with their potty mouths cursing out the president, what we saw today was the president — the one and only president — addressing a nation and a world,” said Conway, “and telling them white supremacy, racism, evil bigotry is completely unequivocally denounced.”