Donald Trump and first lady Melania walk on the South Lawn after returning from a trip to Dayton, Texas.
Aiming to play the traditional role of healer during national tragedy, President Donald Trump paid visits on Wednesday to cities reeling from mass shootings that left 31 dead and dozens more wounded. But his divisive words preceded him, large protests greeted him and biting political attacks soon followed.
The president and first lady Melania Trump flew to El Paso late in the day after visiting the Dayton, Ohio, hospital where many of the victims of Sunday's attack in that city were treated. For most of the day, the president was kept out of view of the reporters traveling with him, but the White House said the couple met with hospital staff and first responders and spent time with wounded survivors and their families.
Trump told them he was "with them," said press secretary Stephanie Grisham. "Everybody received him very warmly. Everybody was very, very excited to see him." Trump said the same about his reception in the few moments he spoke with the media at a 911 call center in El Paso.
But outside Dayton's Miami Valley Hospital, at least 200 protesters gathered, blaming Trump's incendiary rhetoric for inflaming political and racial tensions in the country and demanding action on gun control. Some said Trump was not welcome in their city. There were Trump supporters, as well.
Trump's response to the shootings has been insincere. To me he comes off as fake.
In El Paso, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke spoke to several hundred people at a separate gathering. O'Rourke, a potential Democratic 2020 presidential rival, has blistered Trump as a racist instigator, but he also told those in his audience the open way the people of his hometown treat each other could be "the example to the United States of America."
Emotions are still raw in both cities in the aftermath of the weekend shootings. Critics contend Trump's own words have contributed to a combustible climate that has spawned death and other violence.
The vitriol continued on Wednesday.
Trump's motorcade passed El Paso protesters holding "Racist Go Home" signs. And Trump spent part of his flight between Ohio and Texas airing his grievances on Twitter, berating Democratic lawmakers, O'Rourke and the press. It was a remarkable split-screen appearance for TV viewers, with White House images of handshakes and selfies juxtaposed with angry tweets.
Trump and the White House have forcefully disputed the idea that he bears some responsibility for the nation's divisions. And he continued to do so Wednesday.
"My critics are political people," Trump said as he left the White House, noting the apparent political leanings of the shooter in the Dayton killings. He also defended his rhetoric on issues including immigration, claiming instead that he "brings people together."
Some 85% of US adults believe the tone and nature of political debate has become more negative, with a majority saying Trump has changed things for the worse, according to recent Pew Research Center polling. And more than three quarters, 78%, say that elected officials who use heated or aggressive language to talk about certain people or groups make violence against those people more likely.
In Dayton, raw anger and pain were on display as protesters chanted "Ban those guns" and "Do something!" during Trump's visit.
Holding a sign that said "Not Welcome Here," Lynnell Graham said she thinks Trump's response to the shootings has been insincere.
"To me he comes off as fake," she said.
Dorothee Bouquet, stood in the bright sun with her 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, tucked in a stroller. She told them they were going to a protest "to tell grownups to make better rules."
But in El Paso, where more protests awaited, Raul Melendez, whose father-in-law, David Johnson, was killed in Saturday's shooting, said the most appropriate thing Trump could do was to meet with relatives of the victims.
"It shows that he actually cares, if he talks to individual families," said Melendez, who credits Johnson with helping his 9-year-old daughter survive the attack by pushing her under a counter. Melendez, an Army veteran and the son of Mexican immigrants, said he holds only the shooter responsible for the attack.
The back-to-back massacres have reopened the national debate over gun safety and led protesters in Dayton to heckle Ohio's Republican governor, Mike DeWine, at a vigil for the shooting victims with chants of "Do something!"
It is a highly unusual predicament for an American president to at once try to console a community and a nation at the same time he is being criticized as contributing to a combustible
The two mass shootings in the US are just too shocking. Though US President Donald Trump condemned the act, saying it was an act of cowardice, there is no doubt that his derogatory language on immigrants is pushing hatred of foreigners into the limelight. It also encourages white supremacists to indulge in violence.
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