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President Trump visits Dayton and El Paso

President Trump on Wednesday traveled to El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, where meetings with first responders and survivors of mass shootings were marked by calls for tougher gun laws and the president’s attacks on Democrats and the media.

Trump stayed out of public view for most of the trip, which came just days after massacres in El Paso and Dayton left more than 30 dead and dozens injured. He held closed-door meetings at hospitals in both cities before making brief remarks at an emergency operations center in El Paso.


Most photos from the day’s trip came from official White House accounts, which showed Trump and the first lady smiling for pictures with hospital staff and meeting with patients recovering from injuries.

"He and Melania did the right things," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said at a press conference in Dayton. "It's his job in part to comfort people. I'm glad he did it."

But the president’s visits were also met with protests. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in each city to demand action on gun laws and to denounce Trump’s rhetoric, which Democrats have argued contributed to the violence in El Paso.

Trump at times overshadowed the somber atmosphere of the day, including when he sent a series of tweets while en route from Dayton to El Paso in which he lashed out at Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, two Ohio officials who joined him at the hospital and a Fox News anchor.

The tweets and protests appeared to validate the concerns of some local officials who worried that Trump's arrival would divide their grieving communities.

"I think for the victims and for our first responders they were happy to see him, and they’ve been through an awful lot," Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley (D) said of the president's visit. "I’m not going to lie, it’s hard on the community."

"We’re a fragile community," she added. "We’ve just been through a lot of pain. That tension was real ... and we didn’t see any of that until the president’s announcement."

Trump's presence in El Paso was particularly precarious. Democrats have widely tied the suspected gunman's manifesto that referenced an "invasion" of Latinos to the president's use of the term to describe the influx of migrants at the southern border and his frequent description of immigrants as "thugs" and "criminals."

Democratic officials in El Paso said the president was not welcome in the city, and residents held an event to promote inclusion and unity in the border town.

"I think my rhetoric brings people together," Trump told reporters Wednesday morning before leaving Washington while reiterating that illegal immigration was a serious problem.

The president has at times struggled to embrace the roll of comforter-in-chief in the aftermath of tragedies.

Trump chided local officials in Pittsburgh who declined to meet with him in October when he visited a synagogue where a gunman killed 11 people and has generally shown an inability to refrain from hitting back at critics.

White House officials argued Wednesday that Trump was the victim of a no-win situation because he would be lambasted if he declined to go to Dayton and El Paso.

"He’s not doing this for people who want his job. He’s doing this because it is his job," White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said on Fox News. "Nobody really cares if [Democrats are] trying to use this for craven political gain. This president does what presidents do and what this president and first lady have done every single time we have a tragedy."

Trump told reporters on Wednesday morning he preferred to "stay out of the political fray" and accused Democrats of using the shootings for political purposes.

"These are people that are looking for political gain," he said. "I don’t think they’re getting it. And as much as possible, I’ve tried to stay out of that."

But just hours before leaving for El Paso, he tweeted that former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) — a presidential candidate and El Paso native — should "be quiet" as the ex-congressman called the president a racist and said he should stay away from the city.

Trump lashed out again while flying from Dayton to El Paso. As footage of Biden denouncing Trump's lack of moral leadership played on Air Force One televisions, the president ripped the speech as "Sooo Boring!" and blasted media coverage of the remarks.

Moments later, he slammed Whaley and Brown over their comments to reporters following the hospital visit with Trump.

"Their news conference after I left for El Paso was a fraud," he tweeted. "It bore no resemblance to what took place with those incredible people that I was so lucky to meet and spend time with."

Trump later told reporters in El Paso that Whaley and Brown were "very dishonest" and that Democrats "shouldn't be politicking today."

Whaley expressed confusion at the president's earlier comments, noting that she and Brown said Trump was "comforting" and well-received by first responders.

Trump was perhaps irked by the two Ohio Democrats harping on the lack of federal action on gun violence, with Brown suggesting nothing had been done because the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are "in bed with the gun lobby."

Stricter gun laws were front of mind for residents in El Paso and Dayton, many of whom greeted Trump with protests.

Demonstrators in Dayton chanted, "Do something!" And one city commissioner wrote an open letter encouraging Trump to use executive action if needed to decrease gun violence.

In El Paso, banners calling to outlaw assault weapons were mixed in with posters denouncing white supremacy.

Trump said Wednesday morning that he was "all in favor" of stronger background checks and has voiced support for "red flag" laws that would allow law enforcement to obtain a court order to confiscate firearms from dangerous individuals.

But Trump threw cold water on a possible ban on high-powered weapons, citing a lack of congressional support, and has in the past backed off an embrace of stronger gun laws in the face of pressure from the National Rifle Association.

It’s unclear how Congress might respond to the recent mass shootings.

In a further sign of the impasse, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the red flag law supported by Republican senators an "ineffective cop out."

McConnell has not brought legislation passed by the House to expand background checks up for a vote.

Local officials sought to impress upon Trump the urgency of the matter during his visits Wednesday.

“Do I think that we’re going to see another mass shooting tomorrow or Friday?" Whaley said. "Probably, because Washington will not move.”

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