Politics

For First Time, Trump Thrust Into Unifier in Chief Role

‘We are strongest when … we work together,’ president says after shooting

President Donald Trump delivered a measured message of national unity just hours after a shooting that injured House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, two Capitol Police officers, a Hill staffer and a lobbyist, his first address to the country in the immediate aftermath of a major domestic incident.

The 45th president got his first hands-on glimpse of the job’s role as national healer in chief, telling the country “we are strongest when we are unified.”

Trump spoke from the Diplomatic Treaty Room of the White House, putting aside the scandals surrounding his presidency and the pursuit of his embattled agenda, to inform the country that the shooter, 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois, had died.

Hodgkinson opened fired at the Republicans’ congressional baseball practice early Wednesday morning in Alexandria, Virginia, where Team GOP was practicing ahead of Thursday’s Congressional Baseball Game for charity.  

More Analysis on Trump's Address to Nation

At several points on Tuesday, Trump had labeled congressional Democrats as “obstructionists,” lambasting them for opposing health care and tax overhaul legislation he and his team are writing with congressional Republicans.

“The Democrats have let you down big league,” the president told an audience at a Milwaukee airport on a trip that was part of what the White House planned as “workforce development week.” As he did earlier Tuesday at the start of a meeting on health care with 15 Senate Republicans, Trump said the GOP’s push for a new law “will get no obstructionist Democratic votes.”

[House Majority Whip Steve Scalise Shot at Congressional Baseball Practice]

But that combative and partisan tone was gone as he spoke a day later, about five hours after the bullets began flying at the baseball field in Alexandria.

During a somber four-minute address, the president called for national unity in the wake of the shooting. He did not mention any political party in his remarks.

“We may have our differences, but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country,” Trump said.

“We can all agree that we are blessed to be Americans, that our children deserve to grow up in a nation of safety and peace, and that we are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good,” the president said.

“Everyone on that field is a public servant,” Trump said, “our courageous police, our congressional aides who work so tirelessly behind the scenes with enormous devotion, and our dedicated members of Congress who represent our people.”

The 44th president, Barack Obama, has lamented the number of times he had to give remarks after mass shootings. 

Wednesday marked the first time as president that Trump has had to deliver such news to the country he leads, when he confirmed that “the assailant has now died from his injuries.”

The closest thing to the stage on which Trump was thrust Wednesday morning came after he decided to launch 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at an airbase in Syria to counter President Bashar Assad’s use of deadly chemical weapons on his own people. On April 6, the still-new commander in chief explained his decision to the American people in an address from his Mar-a-Lago resort in South Florida.

But on Wednesday, the president found out first hand that his new job includes doing things like reassuring the country, providing it information in the midst of chaotic events — and now, updating them on the condition of a House leader who needed surgery after being shot playing baseball.

[After Shooting, Members ‘Numb’ — And Defiant]

“Congressman Steve Scalise, a member of House leadership, was shot and badly wounded, and is now in stable condition at the hospital, along with two very courageous Capitol Police officers,” Trump said. “At least two others were also wounded.”

He called the Louisiana Republican a “friend and a very good friend — he’s a patriot and he’s a fighter.”

“He will recover from this assault,” Trump said, then speaking directly to the wounded whip: “Steve, I want you to know that you have the prayers not only of the entire city behind you, but of an entire nation — and, frankly, the entire world. America is praying for you and America is praying for all of the victims of this terrible shooting.”

The president issued a statement and used Twitter, his preferred form of communication with the American people, in his first comments about the incident earlier Wednesday.

In his first post-domestic tragedy remarks, the president also praised the officers whom GOP lawmakers present at the scene credited for saving many lives.

“Many lives would have been lost if not for the heroic actions of the two Capitol Police officers who took down the gunman despite sustaining gunshot wounds during a very, very brutal assault,” he said.

And, for the first time, Trump was the prayer leader in chief.

“Melania and I are grateful for their heroism,” he said, referring to first lady Melania Trump, “and praying for the swift recovery of all victims.”

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