WASHINGTON (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — After visiting Dayton, Ohio — where 9 people were killed in a mass shooting over the weekend — President Donald Trump will head to El Paso where 22 people were gunned down at a Walmart. But his visit is not being well received by some and he is expected to be met with unusual hostility, in both cities, by people who fault his own incendiary words as a contributing cause to the recent mass shootings.
The mayors of both cities are calling for Trump to change his rhetoric about immigrants. Multiple protests are planned. And Democratic presidential candidates continue to criticize him, including former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who will hold a counter-rally in his hometown of El Paso during the president’s visit.
As the president left the White House, he strongly criticized those who say he bears some responsibility for the nation’s divisions, returning to political arguing even as he calls for unity.
“My critics are political people,” Trump said. “These are people that are looking for political gain.”
He mentioned the apparent political leanings of the shooter in the Dayton killings, suggesting the man was supportive of Democrats.
But the president also said that Congress was making progress on possible new gun legislation.
“I’m looking to do background checks,” Trump said. But he would not embrace a call for an assault weapons ban, saying that there was no political appetite for it.
He said anew that the most important thing is to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
It is a highly unusual predicament for an American president to at once try to unite a community and a nation at the same time he is being criticized as contributing to a combustible climate that can spawn violence.
Trump is trying to unite a community and a nation while he is being accused of contributing to a combustible climate that can spawn violence.
Some 85% of U.S. 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.
White House officials said Trump’s visits would be similar to those he’s paid to grieving communities including Parkland, Florida, and Las Vegas, with the Republican president and the first lady saluting first responders and spending time with mourning families and survivors.
“What he wants to do is go to these communities and grieve with them, pray with them, offer condolences,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Tuesday. He said Trump also wants “to have a conversation” about ways to head off future deadly episodes.
“We can do something impactful to prevent this from ever happening again, if we come together,” the spokesman said.
In the Texas border city of El Paso, some residents and local Democratic lawmakers said Trump was not welcome and urged him to stay away.
This president, who helped create the hatred that made Saturday's tragedy possible, should not come to El Paso. We do not need more division. We need to heal. He has no place here.
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) August 5, 2019
“This president, who helped create the hatred that made Saturday’s tragedy possible, should not come to El Paso,” O’Rourke tweeted. “We do not need more division. We need to heal. He has no place here.”
Trump, on the eve of his El Paso trip, snapped back on Twitter that O’Rourke “should respect the victims & law enforcement – & be quiet!”
Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar of El Paso tweeted Tuesday that she declined to meet with Mr. Trump when he comes to the area.
I was told that @realDonaldTrump is “too busy” to have that conversation.
I declined the invitation because I refuse to be an accessory to his visit. I refuse to join without a dialogue about the pain his racist and hateful words & actions have caused our community and country.
— Rep. Veronica Escobar (@RepEscobar) August 6, 2019
In Dayton, Mayor Nan Whaley said she would be meeting with Trump on Wednesday, but she told reporters she was disappointed with his scripted remarks Monday responding to the shootings. His speech included a denunciation of “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” and a declaration that “hate has no place in America.” But he didn’t mention any new efforts to limit sales of certain guns or the anti-immigration rhetoric found in an online screed posted just before the El Paso attack.
O’Rourke will be addressing an #ElPasoStrong rally Wednesday afternoon that will serve as counterprogramming to Trump’s visit, in addition to attending a morning remembrance and making an evening visit to a makeshift memorial outside the Walmart where a gunman killed 22 people. And New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker will deliver a speech on gun violence and white nationalism at the Charleston, South Carolina, church where nine black parishioners were killed in 2015.
Gidley and other White House officials denounced suggestions that Trump’s rhetoric was in any way responsible for the shooting.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)