Trump Blasts Dayton Leaders For 'Misrepresenting' His Visit
Updated at 7:15 p.m. ET
President Trump visited survivors of the shooting in Dayton, Ohio, on Wednesday before heading to El Paso, Texas, the site of the weekend's other deadly violence. Trump remained out of public view during the Dayton stop.
On the ground in El Paso, Trump said, "We had an amazing day."
"The love, the respect, for the office of the presidency, it was — I wish you could have been in there to see it," he told reporters.
He said the medical staff in both places "have done an incredible job." Trump also met with first responders in El Paso.
Few details were available after his single stop in Dayton, a visit to the Miami Valley Hospital. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the president's visit was closed to the press because it was not a "photo-op." Grisham tweeted from Dayton that there were "Very powerful moments for all!"
Dayton account in dispute
After Trump left Dayton and headed to El Paso, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, both Democrats, met with reporters at the hospital.
Brown said the president "was received well by the patients as you'd expect. They were hurting; he was comforting. He did the right things. Melania did the right things. And it's his job in part to comfort people."
Whaley said she and Brown both "spoke very directly" to the president about the need to act on gun legislation.
Brown said Trump talked to some of the first responders and proposed giving them medals. Brown said he told the president, "Respectfully, the best thing he could do for these police officers is take these assault weapons off the streets."
A few moments later, Grisham again tweeted, criticizing Brown and Whaley for holding "such a dishonest press conference in the name of partisan politics."
President @realDonaldTrump graciously asked Sen Brown & Mayor Whaley to join as he and the First Lady visited victims, medical staff & first responders. It is genuinely sad to see them immediately hold such a dishonest press conference in the name of partisan politics. https://t.co/BB0lXhfBnG— Kayleigh McEnany (@PressSec) August 7, 2019
Trump then tweeted while heading to his next stop, El Paso, saying, "it was a warm & wonderful visit. Tremendous enthusiasm & even Love." He said that Brown and Whaley were "misrepresenting" what happened, calling their news conference a "fraud."
"Appetite" for gun legislation
The Dayton shooter opened fire outside a bar early Sunday morning, killing nine people and wounding dozens more. It came hours after a mass shooting in an El Paso Walmart that killed 22 people.
As he left the White House on Wednesday morning, Trump told reporters that he was optimistic about reaching a deal with Congress on expanded background-check legislation.
"There is a great appetite, and I mean a very strong appetite, for background checks," he said. But Trump said there is "no political appetite" for banning assault-style weapons, despite public polling that indicates otherwise.
Trump also denied that his rhetoric had anything to do with the El Paso shootings. "I think my rhetoric brings people together," Trump said.
He said he was concerned about "the rise of any group of hate ... whether it's white supremacy, any type of supremacy, antifa," referring to loosely organized left-wing groups.
He said of the Dayton shooter, "He was a fan of antifa. He was a fan of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — nothing to do with Trump." Investigators said Tuesday that no final conclusions have been reached on the shooter's motive but that evidence indicates he was "exploring violent ideologies." Officials did not elaborate. There were early indications that he had the potential for violence, NPR's Joel Rose reported.
Dayton mayor: "That's up to the president"
Ahead of Trump's visit, Whaley told reporters that she had been "disappointed" with Trump's response and with his failure to push for stricter gun laws.
Asked whether Trump could help unite her community, Whaley replied, "Everyone has it in their power to be a force to bring people together, and everybody has it in their power to be a force to bring people apart. That's up to the president of the United States."
On whether Trump was visiting too soon, Whaley said, "Look, he's the president of the United States. He does his calendar. I do mine."
She also dismissed Trump's mistaken reference to Dayton as "Toledo" in his address to the nation on Monday as an example of "people from the coast" not understanding Ohio, "and they think all Ohio cities are the same."
Fact checks and late fees in El Paso
Trump has offended the city of El Paso too, with repeated claims this year that a border wall erected in El Paso turned it from "one of the most dangerous cities" to "one of the safest." Statistics have shown that this happened long before the wall was erected — and that El Paso has never been one of the most dangerous cities in the United States.
El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, a Republican, has been critical of Trump's comments about the city in the past. But Margo was among those officials who met Trump at the airport upon his arrival.
In the wake of the shooting, Margo said on Monday, "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."
But, 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."
Trump's reelection campaign also still owes the city over a half-million dollars for security costs for a rally in El Paso in February, which is now incurring late fees, The Texas Tribune has reported.
Congresswoman cancels on Trump
Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, who represents El Paso, wrote in a series of tweets that she had asked for a call with the president on Tuesday to talk about his "responsibility to acknowledge the power of his words, apologize for them, and take them back because they are still hanging over us," in order to facilitate "a dialogue that could lead to healing."
However, she said she was told that Trump was " 'too busy' to have that conversation," and as a result she declined an invitation to join the president on his trip.
"I refuse to be an accessory to his visit," Escobar said. "I refuse to join without a dialogue about the pain his racist and hateful words & actions have caused our community and country."
In addition to his words on immigration, Trump's attacks on people of color in Congress in recent weeks have been blasted as racist.
Speaking at the White House on Monday morning, though, Trump declared, "In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy."
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.