President Trump is preparing to visit El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, on Wednesday, appearances that will not be universally welcome as the two cities grieve from weekend mass shootings that left 31 dead and many injured and rattled.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway confirmed Trump’s plans while speaking to reporters Tuesday, saying he “has wanted to go there since he learned of these tragedies.”
Conway suggested that Trump’s itinerary would be similar to other visits in the wake of mass shootings or natural disasters, which have included meetings with those affected and with law enforcement and first responders.
Several Democratic officials have urged Trump not to visit El Paso, a city of about 683,000 with a largely Latino population, in the aftermath of Saturday’s anti-immigrant attack at a Walmart Supercenter that left 22 dead.
And on Tuesday afternoon, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat, encouraged people unhappy over Trump’s upcoming visit to the city of about 140,000 to protest.
“I think people should stand up and say they’re not happy if they’re not happy he’s coming,” Whaley told reporters.
The gunman in Dayton killed nine people early Sunday.
Officials in El Paso are still investigating but believe the alleged gunman posted a manifesto that echoed Trump’s harsh rhetoric on immigrants, notably describing his attack as “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
“This president, who helped create the hatred that made Saturday’s tragedy possible, should not come to El Paso,” former Democratic congressman Beto O’Rourke tweeted late Monday afternoon. “We do not need more division. We need to heal. He has no place here.”
The words of O’Rourke, a presidential candidate, echoed those earlier in the day of Democratic U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, whose district includes the Walmart targeted in the massacre.
During a television appearance Monday, she urged the president and his team “to consider the fact that his words and his actions have played a role in this.”
“From my perspective, he is not welcome here,” Escobar said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “He should not come here while we are in mourning.”
El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said at a Monday news conference that he would welcome Trump in an official capacity and ask him “to support our efforts with any and all federal resources that are available.”
But Margo also cautioned Trump against invoking his previous rhetoric to talk about the border city.
“I will continue to challenge any harmful and inaccurate statements made about El Paso,” Margo said. “We will not allow anyone to portray El Paso in a way that is not consistent with our history and values.”
Adolpho Telles, chairman of the El Paso County Republican Party, said during a television interview Tuesday that he welcomes Trump’s visit.
“Clearly it is going to help with people healing, and this is a time of healing,” Telles said on CNN.
He accused Democrats of “making this a political event for their benefit.”
Speaking to reporters in Dayton, Whaley said she isn’t sure that Trump’s visit will be helpful.
“Look, I have no sense of what’s in President Trump’s mind at all, right?” she said. “I can only hope that as president of the United States he’s coming here because he wants to add value to our community, and he recognizes that that’s what our community needs.”
Asked whether Trump was coming too soon after the shootings, Whaley said: “He’s the president of the United States. He does his calendar. I do mine.”
She also criticized Trump’s Oval Office remarks on Monday about the two mass shootings, saying that “his comments weren’t very helpful to the issues around guns.”
“I’m disappointed with his remarks,” Whaley said. “I think they fell really short. He mentioned gun issues — like — one time. I don’t know if he knows what he believes, frankly.”
Asked about Trump mistakenly referring to Dayton as Toledo during his remarks, Whalen said it was reflective of people who live on the coasts and think “all Ohio cities are the same.”
Asked during an earlier CNN interview Tuesday morning whether he wants Trump to visit his home state, U.S Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, noted that he represents a different area but said that Trump “would not be welcome in my hometown.”
Ryan, another 2020 hopeful whose congressional district includes a large swath of northeastern Ohio, called Trump “a polarizing figure.”
“He finds a million ways to divide us,” Ryan said. “He’s got to get beyond that.”
Vice President Mike Pence spoke about the dual attacks during a speech on Tuesday at Alliance Defending Freedom’s conference, where he said he shares the president’s belief that “hate has no place in America.”
“The sinister ideologies of racism, bigotry and white supremacy must be defeated,” Pence said.
The vice president said Trump has directed the FBI to prioritize combating hate crimes and domestic terrorism.
“As the president also said, now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside,” Pence added.
Trump, meanwhile, took to Twitter on Tuesday to push back against a tacit rebuke from former president Barack Obama.
In social media posts on Monday, Obama called on the country to reject words “coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders” that feed fear and hatred and normalize racist sentiments.
In his tweet, Trump quoted co-host Brian Kilmeade on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends” as pointing out that it was unusual for past presidents to speak out about the current occupant of the Oval Office in the wake of mass shootings.
“Did George Bush ever condemn President Obama after Sandy Hook,” Trump quoted Kilmeade as saying. “President Obama had 32 mass shootings during his reign. Not many people said Obama is out of Control. Mass shootings were happening before the President even thought about running for Pres.”
Josh Dawsey and Colby Itkowitz contributed to this report.
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