In absence of presidential leadership, Rep. Escobar becomes a comforter in chief for El Paso

Representative Veronica Escobar (D-TX) answers questions after a press briefing, following a mass fatal shooting, at the El Paso Regional Communications Center in El Paso, Texas, on August 3, 2019. - A gunman armed with an assault rifle killed 20 people Saturday when he opened fire on shoppers at a packed Walmart store in the latest mass shooting in the United States. (Photo by Joel Angel JUAREZ / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOEL ANGEL JUAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Part of a president’s job is to also be a comforter in chief. Following the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in 2016, grieving families recalled President Obama’s empathy. One said, “There were times when he choked up.” But the current White House occupant lacks both empathy and leadership, and in fact it was his rhetoric that helped fuel the white supremacist terror attack in Texas. In his absence, there have been several state leaders who have stepped up to take on once-presidential duties, and chief among them has been Rep. Veronica Escobar, the freshman congresswoman from El Paso.

Escobar described to The New Yorker her numerous visits with survivors and grieving families, cautioning that because she wanted to be respectful, she first took the time to verify which would be fine with meeting her following this tragedy. “I wasn’t just knocking on a door and walking in,” she said. Among those who were okay with talking with her, she called the trauma they survived and witnessed at the Walmart store “indescribable.”

“I spoke to a truck driver who got the call from his wife during the shooting,” she said. “Can you imagine being on the other side of that telephone and your wife is sobbing and crying and saying, ‘I don’t know where our daughter is. I don’t know if she is safe.’” Two mothers she also spoke to said they were holding a fundraiser for their daughters’ soccer team, but because they were in separate areas from their kids, “the first thing they felt was incredible desperation to know whether their children were alive.”

While the state’s governor has been too busy trying to protect guns and the president rather than his constituents, it’s also been Escobar who has been among those forcefully denouncing the rhetoric that helped fuel this attack. “I have already been widely criticized for offering a rebuttal to the governor’s comment,” she continued, saying, ”I don’t understand the mind-set that you can’t talk about what happened because somehow it is disrespectful to the victims. I think what is disrespectful to the victims is to ignore why it happened. There are going to be twenty funerals in this community. We absolutely have to talk about why.”

Escobar’s duties in her first year in federal office have also extended to protecting U.S. laws that the president has trampled on, such as the right to ask for asylum. But when her office interviewed asylum-seekers who have been sent back to Mexico under cruel and inhumane Trump administration policies to wait out their cases, Escobar got death threats after conservative outlets turned her oversight into “a ridiculous conspiracy theory.”

But beyond compassion, Escobar also wants to give hope to those who are being demonized and attacked by their own government. “El Paso is an incredible community,” she said on Sunday. “During moments of crisis, we’ve demonstrated to the country how we treat strangers and the most vulnerable in our midst. We will continue to do this because we have chosen to face challenges with decency, strength and love. We will continue to celebrate our diversity, and come together in unity, especially during times of strife. We will persevere.”

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