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Rep. Pete Aguilar Defends Media Coverage Of San Bernardino Attack


Yesterday, speaking at U.S. Central Command in Florida, President Trump suggested that many terrorist attacks worldwide are being intentionally under-reported by the press.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Radical Islamic terrorists are determined to strike our homeland as they did on 9/11, as they did from Boston to Orlando to San Bernardino and all across Europe. You've seen what happened in Paris and Nice. All over Europe, it's happening. It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported. And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it.

MCEVERS: We should say, NPR and other news organizations reported extensively on these attacks that Trump mentioned. Yesterday, the White House followed up on the president's claim by releasing a list of 78 attacks worldwide it described as under-reported by the press. The list included high-profile attacks like Paris, Boston and the shooting at a county public health department's holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif.

Pete Aguilar is the U.S. representative for the district covering San Bernardino, and he's with us now. Representative Aguilar, welcome to the program.

PETE AGUILAR: Good to be with you, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So how do you respond to the president invoking San Bernardino in this situation?

AGUILAR: Well, it hurts. I mean it's just not fair or accurate. People in San Bernardino are still recovering. There are victims who need, you know, help and care. And these types of inaccurate comments are just not fair.

MCEVERS: When you talk about inaccurate, you mean the fact that it wasn't reported on at the time?

AGUILAR: Correct - and that he's using San Bernardino as a talking point. But it's not accurate to help push his poorly, you know, veiled attempt at a Muslim ban and to use San Bernardino as an example. If this executive order had been in place on 9/11 or on December 2 in San Bernardino, it would not have changed anything. So to continually use it as an opportunity to score political points is just not fair to the people of San Bernardino County and the people in my district.

MCEVERS: Just want to clarify that the two shooters in this incident - one was born here in the United States, and the other one came over on a fiance visa from Pakistan, which was not one of the countries that was listed on President Trump's executive order.

AGUILAR: Correct, correct.

MCEVERS: You are a Democrat. What legitimate policy changes do you think should come out of what happened in your community?

AGUILAR: Well, I think, you know, the after action report that was put out by the Department of Justice I think talked glowingly about the response that law enforcement had to this incident. Law enforcement continues to need, you know, resources to help and respond to these issues. Honestly, just having, you know, more help and support, more police officers on the street - those are things that local communities, you know, really need and want out of the federal government.

MCEVERS: How do you think about stopping attacks like this in the future?

AGUILAR: We can do a lot of things. One, I talked about the support that local communities, you know, need out of this administration and out of us as policymakers. We can talk about how individuals are self-radicalizing. We can talk about the use of social media to help them achieve their goals. We can talk about a lot of things. But I guess my broader point is that none of what President Trump put forward moves that conversation forward in the least.

MCEVERS: I can imagine that there are people in your community who, you know, after something like this think that keeping America's border safe is - resonates. You know, imaging a world where certain people are kept away. Maybe that makes sense to them.

AGUILAR: Well, the 31st Congressional District in San Bernardino County is, you know, very similar to many California communities, incredibly diverse. Many of them live in our area but work or worship away from San Bernardino County for employment. They want to raise their families. They want to be safe, absolutely. But they also know that our diversity is our strength.

And there is so much more that we can learn from one another when we engage in meaningful discussions about family and faith and politics. So I just don't think that this does anything to move that needle at all.

MCEVERS: That's U.S. Representative Pete Aguilar who represents the area of Southern California that includes San Bernardino. Thanks so much for your time today.

AGUILAR: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF HINT SONG, "COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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