ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
At least 77 people are dead in Nice in the south of France. A truck accelerated into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day. President Obama has issued a statement saying that this appears to be a horrific terrorist attack. NPR's White House correspondent Scott Horsley is with us now. Hi, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Ari, good to be with you.
SHAPIRO: What is the latest that you've heard from the White House?
HORSLEY: Well, that statement that the president issued condemns, in the strongest terms, this attack. And, you know, this is a president who is typically cautious about characterizing events like this. But in this case, he wasted no time in branding this a terrorist attack. Now, one might say that's just stating the obvious since, as you say, witnesses describe this truck as accelerating into a crowd of people watching fireworks. And we've heard from the mayor of Nice that the truck itself was laden with explosives. So it certainly does appear to be a horrific terrorist attack.
What we don't know is which group or ideology might have motivated this attack. And so the president has also directed his staff to work with the French government to offer any assistance that they need in trying to investigate that and bringing the people responsible for this attack to justice.
SHAPIRO: Obviously, the State Department would play a role in this, and Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement just within the last hour saying he was in Paris earlier today. And he said, quote, "today's horrendous attack in Nice is an attack against innocent people on a day that celebrates liberty, equality and fraternity." It does seem very significant that this happened on the day that in France is the equivalent of the American Fourth of July.
HORSLEY: Well, and the president also referenced that in his statement tonight. On this Bastille Day, the president said, we were reminded of the extraordinary resilience and the democratic values that have made France an inspiration to the entire world. This is very reminiscent of the statement that the president made on camera last November when we had that horrific attack in Paris at the Bataclan nightclub and elsewhere. Back then, Obama said, we are reminded in this time of tragedy the bonds of liberty and egality and fraternity are not only values the French people care deeply about, but they're values that we share.
SHAPIRO: Do we expect to hear President Obama speak publicly about this tonight?
HORSLEY: I think this written statement may be what the White House hangs its hat on for this evening, partly because earlier today the president recorded a town hall meeting for ABC television. This was a town hall on the topic that has really occupied much of the president's time this week and into last week. That is, the fraught relationship between law enforcement in this country and minority communities.
Of course, on Tuesday, the president was in Dallas to speak at the memorial service for the five law enforcement officers who were killed there. He also spoke last week when he was in Warsaw about the deaths of two African-American men at the hands of police. I should say that while he was in Warsaw, President Obama was meeting with President Hollande of France and the other NATO leaders. And one of the items that was high on their agenda was terrorism.
SHAPIRO: This evening, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton called into cable news networks and did interviews about this attack. And both said a variation on we are at war or we'll ask Congress to pass a declaration of war. How does that compare with what President Obama has said about whether there is a so-called war on terror?
HORSLEY: Well, the president has generally tried to sort of shy away from that war on terror language. He certainly talked again tonight about bringing those responsible for this attack to justice. But I think he approaches that less as a war in the traditional sense and more as sort of almost a law enforcement issue where you sort of have to keep after it all the time.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley with the latest on the attacks in Nice, France Thank you, Scott.
HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.