President Joe Biden invited condemnation once again on Tuesday for joking in response to a question about the Covenant School massacre.
What is the background?
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is calling on the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to investigate the tragedy as a "hate crime."
"We should be clear about what happened in Nashville. Police say the shooting was 'targeted.' That makes it a federal hate crime — against Christian children and teachers," Hawley said. "Targeting victims on the basis of religious affiliation is a hate crime. It should be investigated as such."
What did Biden say?
Biden spoke with a gaggle of reporters Tuesday afternoon after stepping off Marine One, during which a reporter asked Biden whether he believes the perpetrator specifically targeted Christians.
"Sir, do you believe that Christians were targeted in the Nashville school shooting? Do you believe that Christians were targeted?" the reporter asked.
"I have no idea," Biden said at first.
The reporter then told Biden that Hawley believes the perpetrator targeted the Christian school because of faith. With that piece of information in hand, Biden used the opportunity to joke.
"I probably don't then," he said. "No — I'm joking. No, I have no idea."
The "joking" response came one day after Biden was criticized for talking about ice cream before addressing the shooting massacre.
Hawley responded to Biden's comments, saying, "What a disgrace."
"Schoolchildren were killed yesterday in a hate crime — but rather than pushing for answers, Joe Biden is trying to make jokes," the lawmaker later said. "It's beneath the office of the presidency."
Will it be investigated as a hate crime?
Attorney General Merrick Garland addressed the question on Tuesday while testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Garland confirmed that federal investigators are working with state and local law enforcement and explained that it cannot yet be determined whether the massacre was a "hate crime" because investigators have not confirmed the perpetrator's motive.
"The FBI and the ATF are both on the scene working with the local police. As of now a motive hasn't been identified," he said. "Motive is what determines whether it's a hate crime or not."
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