White House spokesman Josh Earnest blamed Republican presidential candidates Monday for a lack of national unity after the San Bernardino terrorist attack.
Earnest was responding to a question posed by Andrew Beatty, the Agence France-Presse's White House correspondent, who asked why the country does not appear to be coming together as it has after similar national tragedies in the past.
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"The president's address last night included a call for national unity," Beatty began his question. "I was wondering if you're surprised that there hasn't been that kind of unity as you may have seen in previous attacks, for example after 9/11."
Earnest responded that two ideas "immediately come to mind," the first of which being that the United States is a diverse country "very united around a set of core principles."
Second, Earnest cited Republican 2016 presidential candidates as the primary cause for disunity.
"A lot of these issues are being discussed in the context of a hotly competitive presidential election," Earnest said. "And we have seen a willingness on the part of some candidates…to use some divisive rhetoric. And they have done that, I think, in rather cynical fashions, understanding that it runs contrary to the values of our country but also understanding that the intensity of some of those emotions could propel their political campaigns."
Earnest concluded his response by questioning whether some of these candidates are qualified for the presidency. "So that's a pretty cynical conclusion that I think some might say is automatically disqualifying to serve in the Oval Office, but obviously the American people will make that determination."
Earnest was referring specifically to Republican presidential candidates as he criticized Republicans and the president's "political opponents" throughout much of Monday's press briefing for widespread dissatisfaction with President Obama's speech on Sunday night.
Obama addressed the nation from the Oval Office to discuss the threat posed by the Islamic State and terrorism as a whole to the United States and the rest of the world.
The president sought to ease anxiety over the growing fear of terrorist attacks occurring on U.S. soil after the recent Islamic State-inspired shooting in San Bernardino, California killed 14 people and wounded 21 others, which Obama called an act of terrorism.
Much of the speech focused on the president's strategy to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the center of its self-declared caliphate. Despite widespread calls from both Republicans and Democrats for Obama to change his approach to defeat the jihadist group, and expectations that he may do so in his address, the president reaffirmed that his policies are working but will take time.
Republicans immediately lambasted the president for his remarks, but they were not alone in their criticisms. David Axelrod, for example, a former senior adviser to the president, said the address was good but "didn't meet the threshold of Oval Office speeches because it offered nothing new," according to Yahoo News.
The president also spent part of his speech calling for stricter gun control laws, which Republican lawmakers are saying politicizes the San Bernardino attack and the need to focus on terrorism.