Acting as “consoler-in-chief” has never been President Trump’s strong suit, and his visits to Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas on Wednesday were off to a rocky start even before he left D.C. With Trump facing criticism for failing to do enough to combat gun violence, and allegations that his racist rhetoric emboldens white supremacists, many lawmakers and residents in Dayton and El Paso were not enthusiastic about his trip. Despite his call for “unity” and “love” in his Monday address on the shootings that claimed the lives of 31 people over the weekend, Trump did little to assauge their concerns on Wednesday. In between visits with shooting victims and hospital staff throughout the day, the president lobbed attacks at Democrats and other perceived enemies. Here’s a rundown of Trump’s visits to the two grieving cities.
Dayton Officials Were Skeptical Ahead of Trump’s Visit
Several officials in Ohio criticized Trump for his stance on guns, and Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown told Sirius XM’s The Joe Madison Show on Tuesday that he did not plan on meeting with the president in Dayton. “I don’t have any interest because of what he’s done on this – total unwillingness to address the issue of guns, his racist rhetoric,” he said, according to USA Today.
A day later, Brown changed his mind:
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, also a Democrat, said she’d meet with Trump though she’s “disappointed” with him. She said she planned to tell him that the gun control proposals he described in his remarks on the shooting on Monday don’t go far enough. “His comments weren’t very helpful to the issue around guns,” she told reporters.
Trump’s Uncomfortable History With El Paso
Trump had tangled with El Paso prior to the shooting, claiming earlier this year that a border wall had transformed the city from “one of the most dangerous cities” to “one of the safest,” though the city was one of the safest in the country even before fencing went up. Officials have also complained that Trump still owes the city more than half a million dollars to cover security costs from a rally there in February.
El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, a Republican, previously criticized Trump for falsely claiming that the city was particularly dangerous, and on Monday he said, “I will continue to challenge any harmful and inaccurate statements made about El Paso. We will not allow anyone to portray El Paso in a manner that is not consistent with our history and values.”
Margo said he’d received emails and phone calls from constituents who were unhappy about Trump’s impending visit, and he understood their concerns. However, he added, “I will fulfill my obligations as mayor of El Paso to meet with the president and discuss whatever our needs are in this community and hope that if we are expressing specifics that we can get him to come through for us.”
Other lawmakers were unwilling to welcome Trump to the city. Representative Veronica Escobar, a Democrat who represents El Paso, said in a Twitter thread that she declined an invitation from the White House to join Trump on Wednesday. She said she requested a phone call with the president to discuss her constituents concerns, but was told Trump was “too busy.”
Earlier in the week, 2020 presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke said Trump should not visit El Paso:
Trump Began the Day With Combative Tweets
Trump was mostly out of sight on Tuesday, and White House aides said he was busy preparing for his trip on Wednesday.
“This is a very, very serious moment in our country’s history,” Trump spokesman Hogan Gidley told reporters. “This president recognizes the gravity of this moment.”
However, his tweets on Tuesday night and early on Wednesday morning raised new doubts about that. First he lobbed an attack at El Paso native Beto O’Rourke, who said Sunday at a vigil for the victims of the shooting, “We have a president right now who traffics in this hatred, who incites this violence, who calls Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, calls asylum seekers animals and an infestation.”
Next Trump made a crack about the New York Times changing its “Trump Urges Unity Vs. Racism” headline, saying “After 3 years I almost got a good headline from the Times!” Then the president tried to tie the Dayton shooter to Democrats, presumably to deflect criticism from those linking his rhetoric to an uptick in white supremacist violence.
Trump Said He’s Looking Into Expanding Gun Background Checks
In a pair of tweets on Monday, Trump suggested tying immigration legislation to strengthening gun background checks. Then in his remarks on the shootings on Monday, her reiterated his support for “red flag” laws, but proposed not other gun measures. Before heading to Ohio on Tuesday, Trump claimed he’s now considering strengthening background checks, saying, “I think we can do something on background checks like we’ve never done before.” He added that he sees “no political appetite” for banning assault rifles.
Of course, contradictory claims on gun violence measures are nothing new for Trump.
Trump’s Visit Sparks Protests in Dayton
Dayton’s mayor and other local officials greeted the president and First Lady Melania Trump at the airport, then headed to Miami Valley Hospital.
According to the Dayton Daily News, about 150 protesters gathered near the hospital, holding signs that read “no assault weapons” and “stand up to the NRA.” The Trump baby balloon also made an appearance.
The New York Times reported that a crowd also gathered in Dayton’s Oregon District, where the shooting occurred.
Though the area is only a few blocks from Miami Valley Hospital, Trump did not visit the shooting site. Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said was for the best.
“I think it was a good decision for him not to stop in the Oregon District,” Whaley explained. “I think a lot of people that own businesses in that district aren’t interested in the president being there. And, you know, a lot of the time his talk can be very divisive, and that’s the last thing we need in Dayton.”
Trump Lashes Out at Ohio Officials
Though Senator Brown and Mayor Whaley reiterated their criticism of Trump’s resistance to gun-control legislation, after Trump left they said only positive things about his hospital visit.
“They were hurting. He was comforting. He did the right things. Melania did the right things,” Brown said. “And it’s his job in part to comfort people. I’m glad he did it in those hospital rooms.”
Whaley added: “I think the victims and the first responders were grateful that the president of the United States came to Dayton.”
Bizarrely, that did not keep Trump and other White House officials from attacking Brown and Whaley for mischaracterizing the hospital visit. Trump tweeted:
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham and social media director Dan Scavino posted similar complaints to Twitter:
Trump Also Lashed Out at Biden and Fox News
Trump’s decidedly un-somber mood continued as he headed to El Paso. First he attacked Joe Biden, who gave a speech in Iowa on Wednesday saying the president has “fanned the flames of white supremacy in this nation.”
Then he went after former pal Fox News:
Trump attacked Brown and Whaley again at the end of his visit to El Paso. “We had an amazing day,” Trump said, according to the Washington Post. “As you know, we left Ohio. The love, the respect for the office of the presidency.”
Patients in El Paso Refuse to Meet With Trump
None of the eight people still being treated at University Medical Center in El Paso agreed to meet with Trump, hospital spokesman Ryan Mielke said. Two patients who had already been discharged returned with family members to meet Trump.
“This is a very sensitive time in their lives,” Mielke said. “Some of them said they didn’t want to meet with the president. Some of them didn’t want any visitors.”
Some of the hospitalized victims have already accepted visits from various local officials.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the Trumps were “received very warmly by not just victims and their families, but by the many members of medical staff who lined the hallways to meet them. It was a moving visit for all involved.”
Trump tweeted out many photos and videos of his visit to both hospitals, though the press was previously told they could not accompany him because the trip was not a “photo op.”
Trump Says Shooter “Gave Up, Just Gave Up”
Hundreds turned out for a protest in an El Paso park that ended just as Trump arrived at University Medical Center. Some walked over to the hospital in the hope that Trump would see their message about addressing gun violence, and ending his racist rhetoric. His motorcade passed protesters holding “Racist Go Home” signs.
Trump met with first responders at the El Paso’s emergency operations center. He called Police Chief Greg Allen a “winner,” and told a female officer, “I saw you on television the other day and you were fantastic.”
Trump also made a bizarre remark about the shooter, who was arrested, saying he’s a “coward. He gave up, just gave up.”
And he bragged about his rally in El Paso earlier this year, which he still hasn’t paid for, saying of the arena that he “Could have sold it out four times.”
Trump Ends the Day With More Twitter Jabs
Trump squeezed in a few more attacks on the way home, going after Joaquin and Julián Castro:
And the media once again. “Sad!” is an inelegant but apt description for the whole day.
This story has been updated throughout.