Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday the he believes the two horrific shooting incidents last week at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and a Kroger's in Louisville were "hate crimes" and the two accused gunmen should face the death penalty.
McConnell also said the heightened political rhetoric of the day is "terrible" and blamed it on contributions from "both sides" of the aisle.
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"We witnessed, all of us, two horrendous shootings this weekend. One in a synagogue in Pittsburgh and one in a Kroger's store in Louisville. If these aren't definitions of hate crimes, I don't know what a hate crime is," McConnell said while speaking to the Federalist Society in the state Capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky.
"I'm also somebody who still embraces the death penalty. I know that's kind of out of fashion in our country. But I think there are times in which it seems to me that's an appropriate response," he said. "And these two occasions, in my view, would be appropriate for the death penalty.
African Americans and Jews were allegedly targeted by the shooters because of their race and religion.
McConnell was asked by an audience member about the heightened rhetoric that is dominating politics ahead of the midterm elections.
"It's terrible, yeah. And I think there have been a lot of contributions to it on both sides," he said. "I think the whole country has been on edge. I hope it settles down after the election. It's not good. It's not good."
McConnell's point that divisive rhetoric is coming from both Democrats and Republicans -- and possibly contributing to political violence -- was also made by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who was in the Capitol on Friday and reacted to the arrest of Cesar Sayoc, the Florida man charged with mailing pipe bombs to political figures and organizations that have been criticized by President Donald Trump.
"There is no excuse for inciting violence regardless who is the person doing it. Certainly, there have been people on both sides of the aisle who have been guilty of whipping people into a frenzy," she said when asked if she thought Trump might lower his rhetoric in the wake of the threatening mailings.
Collins knows firsthand the distress that comes with violent threats in the political arena. She and her staff members received numerous death threats when she was weighing whether to support the nomination of now-Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which she did after a lengthy decision-making process that was marked by angry protests throughout the Capitol campus and confrontations with senators.
Collins singled out Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, of California, who had said members of Trump's Cabinet should not be able to eat out at restaurants without being confronted.
"Yet let me hasten to add I am very distressed to learn that she herself has been a victim of one of these pipe bombs. I just think everybody needs to step back and reassess their rhetoric and urge people to remember that we are all Americans, that we should be working together, and that there is no excuse for such rhetoric," Collins said.
"I believe all of us in public life need to model better behavior," Collins said, including people on television.
"Too often nowadays people tune into networks that just reinforce what they already think rather than broadening their exposure to alternative viewpoints," she said. "We seem to have lost not only a sense of comity but also community in this country, which is very troubling, and we somehow have to restore civil debate."
McConnell said he expects the country to heal from the divisions in the country today and said the nation has seen worse divides in its history before.
"Periodically, we have outbreaks, like the one I started out on -- what happened at the Kroger's, what happened at the synagogue. Awful. Just awful. Sometimes these moments bring us more together rather than pushing us apart. Our shared revulsion at what we witnessed," he said.
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