To Republicans, the redacted transcripts were yet another example of how the Obama administration is mishandling this whole war on terror by ducking every opportunity to avoid talking about the real issues behind it — and specifically, Islam.
To wit, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) issued this unprompted, blistering statement about the redacted transcripts Monday afternoon:
"Selectively editing this transcript is preposterous,” Ryan said. "We know the shooter was a radical Islamist extremist inspired by ISIS. We also know he intentionally targeted the LGBT community. The administration should release the full, unredacted transcript so the public is clear-eyed about who did this, and why."
Other Republicans quickly echoed him:
The pressure worked. The FBI reversed course Monday afternoon and released the redacted parts of the transcript in which Mateen pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, saying the political debate over the redaction had become a distraction.
In another statement, a victorious Ryan said: "This should have never been an issue in the first place."
Ryan's implication here was that the Obama administration was trying to downplay the massacre's ties to terrorism. That would fit right in with a criticism he and other Republicans frequently lob at President Obama: that the president can't or won't acknowledge the roots of the Islamic State because the president can't or won't call it a "radical Islamic" group.
Indeed, what to call the Islamic State has been one of the biggest sticking points between Republicans and Democrats, often overshadowing what to do about the Islamic State. Obama says calling it a radical Islamic group would risk denigrating the world's fastest-growing religion and is beside the point; Republicans like Ryan say it's just common sense and that we can't develop a strategy for defeating the terrorists until we properly label them and understand their motivations.
The reason the Obama administration gave for redacting the transcript probably only adds fuel to Republicans' argument. The FBI said in a news conference earlier Monday that it didn't want to propagate terrorist rhetoric by sharing what the killer said. (Somewhat unrelated, it also said that sharing the more violent parts of the transcript would be "excruciatingly painful" for the victims' families.)
As a general rule, Republicans are less concerned with talking about the Islamic State because they think the benefits — having an honest discussion about the movement's roots — outweigh any potential blowback — like inspiring other homegrown terrorists. The Obama administration sees it the other way around. (Both sides think Washington could do more to prevent homegrown jihadist-inspired terrorists.)
It's also notable that what to call the Islamic State is one of the rare moments these days that Republicans seem in lockstep with their presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump. Echoing Ryan, Trump has made what to call the Islamic State a feature of his post-Orlando campaign — while doubling down on more radical counterterrorism policies that Ryan has condemned. Here's what he tweeted hours after the shooting:
If the past few days are any indication, Washington could — and probably will — go back and forth over what to call the Islamic State for the rest of this presidential campaign. They have been for a few years now, anyway.
But that the partially released transcript of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history revived the debate in its fullest terms underscores just how politicized nearly everything about Orlando has been, right down to the horrific moments of a massacre caught on tape in a phone call.