CNN "CNN Newsroom" - Transcript: Interview with Representative Keith Rothfus



MARQUARDT: Rabinowitz was just 66 years old, gone far too soon.

Joining me now is Republican Congressman Keith Rothfus. He represents Pennsylvania's 12th district. Now, the Tree of synagogue -- the Tree of Life Synagogue, rather, in Pittsburgh borders the 12th District.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us tonight. I first want to ask you, it's been almost 36 hours since this horrific massacre. How is the community there coping with everything?

REP. KEITH ROTHFUS (R), PENNSYLVANIA: The community is numb. Everybody is grief-stricken, heartbroken. One of the dead came from my district, one of my constituents. All of Western Pennsylvania is grieving, and it means so much to Western Pennsylvania that the world is reaching out. To have people from Israel come today, we had the minister of the Diaspora here, Naftali Bennett, the Ambassador Ron Dermer. To see the support from around the world has been very helpful to people here in Western Pennsylvania, particularly for the people in Squirrel Hill.

MARQUARDT: Congressman, in addition to discussing the investigation, we've also been talking about the rhetoric, the dangerous rhetoric that has consumed this country. And I just want to read a quote to you from a group of progressive Pittsburgh Jewish leaders who wrote an open letter to the president. They are demanding that he stay away from the city unless he meets their demand.

This is what the Bend the Arc Pittsburgh wrote. "For the past three years your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement. You yourself direct," sorry. "You yourself called the murder evil but yesterday's violence is the direct culmination of your influence. President Trump., you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism."

[20:10:02] Now, Congressman, we heard just recently in this past week the president in fact call himself a nationalist. We know that in the past he has failed to condemn the violence and the death in Charlottesville.

Do you believe that the president's rhetoric since the campaign and into his presidency has contributed today the rise in hate crimes?

ROTHFUS: You know, I think the condemnation that the president had just yesterday was unequivocal. And we have to stay focused on what this was. This was an act of hatred. It was anti-Semitism, anti- Semitism that has been around for 2,000 years. And it has to be called out. It's around the world. It's happening in Western Europe. It happens in the Middle East. And to see it rear its head here in Pittsburgh, we have to confront it and call it out.

MARQUARDT: But when the president talks about George Soros trying to buy the election and when there are allegations that Soros is funding this caravan of migrants, which we now know Rob Bowers has posted about, you don't see any connection there with this darkening language, this dangerous language?

ROTHFUS: No, you need to stay focused. You need to stay focused what happened here. We had an individual who was spewing hatred on social media. He said he wanted to kill Jewish people. You know, I was in Jerusalem about a year and a half ago visiting the Yad Vashem, the holocaust memorial. And I remember seeing a picture there of a woman holding a child about to be murdered, about to be shot.

That's the kind of hatred that we saw happen here in Pittsburgh yesterday. This is an individual who put this information out. We have to call it out, and to start drawing any kind of inferences from anything other than what this was -- this was an act of hate, an act of Semitism, anti-Semitism that we need to call out around the world.

MARQUARDT: Congressman, as you know all too well after these incidents we as a country always ask ourselves how on earth could this have happened again. There's the argument that we shouldn't be talking about politics during a time of grief. We shouldn't be talking about what should be done in terms of gun control. We heard the president yesterday talking about how this tragedy could have been avoided if that synagogue had had an armed guard. And there are several, many critics of the president who have come out saying that essentially that is victim blaming.

Do you agree with the president that that's the measure that should be taken, that there shouldn't be any sort of discussion about gun control now?

ROTHFUS: Anything that takes the focus off of what this was, an act of hatred, an act of anti-Semitism, that's what the focus should be on today. We have to call it out where it happens. We have to be -- people have been told see something, say something. Somebody may have seen what this person was doing and we have to have a culture of accountability where people do call out this kind of rhetoric or whatever he was putting out.

To say that there should have been armed guards or to call for gun control takes away the focus of what this should be. This was an act of hate. This man went to that synagogue. He wanted to kill Jewish people. He was going to find a way to kill Jewish people whatever way he could. And that the root of it is anti-Semitism. You see it around the world and we have to stay focused on what this was.

MARQUARDT: All right, Congressman, I think you agree that there should be a conversation going forward about anti-Semitism, about that -- about the hate, and about the division that is growing in this country.

Congressman Keith Rothfus, our thoughts of course go out to you, everyone in 12th District and everyone in Pittsburgh. Thanks very much.