Hillary Clinton’s Orlando Shooting Response Had Unexpected Praise From This Former Republican Senator

NEW YORK - APRIL 29: Former senator Larry Pressler attends the Jericho Project Gala 'Celebrate Them Home' at Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers on April 29, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Jericho Project)
Source: Amy Sussman/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

UpdateIn a press conference Monday morning, Orlando police confirmed that 49 people had been killed and 53 injured early Sunday morning at Orlando's Pulse gay nightclub in the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history. After opening fire on the crowd, an individual named Omar Mateen had taken hostages and was ultimately killed in a stand-off with police; Mateen had called 911 and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State shortly before the massacre. Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer declared a state of emergency, and the massacre is being investigated as an act of terrorism. 

Earlier: The worst mass shooting in U.S. history took place on Sunday, June 12, when a shooter stormed a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and killed 50 people. As authorities gradually release the names of the victims and investigators continue to look into the shooter's background, there's been one notable political consequence of the tragedy: Former Republican Sen. Larry Pressler endorsed Hillary Clinton on Sunday, explaining that he has more faith in her ability to respond to an Orlando-style attack than in Donald Trump's. 

"Secretary Clinton would be able to handle such explosive situations, which are terrorist-inspired, much better than Donald Trump," Pressler said in a statement. "She has experience and is anti-[National Rifle Association] — and remember that these domestic terrorists also buy automatic weapons. We should have a much more extensive background check system for buying or transporting assault weapons."

As far as lawmakers go, Pressler is a bit of an odd duck. He won five statewide elections as a Republican before losing his reelection bid in 1996, but since then, he's fallen out with the GOP. Not only is Pressler in favor of "much, much stronger background checks" for firearm purchases, but he also supports the Affordable Care Act, higher taxes for the wealthy, and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. 

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"Unfortunately, the Republican candidate Trump has pledged publicly total cooperation with the NRA," the former South Dakota lawmaker continued. "We cannot use as an excuse that, since this is ISIS-inspired, that [sic] we should not have more gun control — at last, we must recognize that we need a president who will take on the NRA."

Pressler's endorsement of Clinton isn't a huge surprise: The first Vietnam War veteran elected to the Senate, he endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and ran unsuccessfully for his old senate seat as an independent in 2014. 

He's also a man with integrity: During the ABSCAM scandal of the late-1970s, which was depicted extensively in the film American Hustle, Pressler was the only lawmaker to unequivocally refuse a bribe from undercover FBI agents. 

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In one way, however, Pressler's endorsement throws a bit of conventional political wisdom to the wind. Ever since the attacks of September 11th, it's generally been assumed that a domestic terrorist attack like this is politically beneficial to a Republican presidential candidate; this was the assumption after the San Bernardino, California, attacks as well as the violence in Brussels earlier this year.

But if Pressler's comments are any indication, that might not apply this year. While Trump responded to the Orlando shooting by stoking Islamophobia and talking about how smart he is, Clinton proposed policies to help prevent future terror attacks, lamented the attack on the LGBT community, and called for stronger gun laws. Perhaps, then, Americans would prefer a steady, seasoned hand at the wheel in times of uncertainty, and not that of an unpredictable, erratic racist with no political experience. If so, it would be a welcome return to sanity in what's been a largely overwhelming political cycle.

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