White House

El Paso skeptical of Trump’s visit as he lashes out at opponents, media

The president lashed out at Beto O’Rourke and the media before his visits to El Paso and Dayton, Ohio

President Trump is criticizing Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke just hours before heading to his native El Paso to visit victims of a mass shooting there. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 8:51 a.m. | President Trump is opting to attack his political opponents and the media in the hours before he is slated to meet with victims of the deadly mass shootings in Ohio and Texas and the law enforcement officers who stopped both rampages.

Previous commanders in chief almost always chose to focus on the victims of tragedies and attacks, while also discussing federal aid and possible policy changes. But not Trump, firing off angry tweets hours before Air Force One is slated to touch down in Dayton and then El Paso, where two gunmen killed at least 31 people over the weekend.

El Paso and Dayton residents have been wary of the president’s visits, and Trump is expected to be greeted by protests — in addition to the victims — in both of his visits Wednesday. Presidential hopeful and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, as well as others, have even suggested Trump should stay away from the cities as they grieve.

The president began late Tuesday night by lashing out at O’Rourke, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate who represented El Paso — his hometown — and said earlier this week that Trump should not come there. Other Democrats have also called for Trump to remain in Washington, with Ohio Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown telling Sirius XM on Tuesday that he will not —  as is the custom when a sitting president visits a state — join Trump in Dayton.

Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar, who know holds O'Rourke's former 16th District seat, declined a White House invitation to join Trump on the ground.

"My message would’ve been that he needs to understand that his words are powerful and have consequences. Using racist language to describe Mexicans, immigrants and other minorities dehumanize us. Those words inflame others," she wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

"I have publicly said he has a responsibility to acknowledge the power of his words, apologize for them, and take them back because they are still hanging over us," she wrote of the president and his sometimes-racist rhetoric. "I asked for a call so I could say this to him over the phone and ask for a dialogue that could lead to healing," she added, saying White House officials claimed Trump is "too busy" for such a call.

[Trump urged unity after shootings. But White House is hitting Dems hard]

Trump began by alleging that O’Rourke — whose full name is Robert Francis O’Rourke — took the nickname Beto, which he dubbed a “phony name,” to “indicate Hispanic heritage.”

According to the president, the former congressman “is embarrassed by my last visit to the Great State of Texas, where I trounced him,” referring to a political rally Trump held in El Paso the same night O’Rourke kicked off his campaign in his hometown; Trump ostensibly went there to sell his proposed border wall, but spent ample time taking shots at O’Rourke. He also wrote that O’Rourke “is now even more embarrassed by polling at 1% in the Democrat Primary,” before telling O’Rourke he should “respect he victims & law enforcement - & be quiet!”

Before sunrise in El Paso, Texas state Democratic Rep. Art Fierro, who represents El Paso, told CNN that he wants the president to drop the partisan attacks.

“Words have consequences. It’s no longer rhetoric,” Fierro said, referring to the suspected Walmart shooter’s online manifesto that echoed Trump’s description of undocumented migrants coming to the United States as an “invasion.” He called on Trump to call the Senate back to vote on a House-passed background checks bill, adding: "Let’s save people’s lives."

The two hours Trump is slated to spend on the ground in El Paso, he said, would be better used with him at the White House coming up with a bipartisan proposal to make it harder for would-be shooters to acquire firearms.

The president also started the day scheduled for a visit to the two affected cities by panning perhaps his other biggest perceived foe, the news media.

He latched onto a largely online debate about a New York Times headline atop an article about Trump’s Monday address about the shootings that its top editors have since called a mistake. That read, before it was changed on the newspaper’s website, this way: “Trump Urges Unity Vs. Racism.” It was changed to “Assailing Hate But Not Guns.”

Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that the initial headline “was the correct description in the first headline by the Failing New York Times, but it was quickly changed … after the Radical Left Democrats went absolutely CRAZY! Fake News - That’s what we’re up against…” The president often contends that the media and Democrats are in cahoots, echoing conservative media figures like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and others.

But the media-conscious president, who admits to watching hours of cable news each day and calibrates his presidency according to how networks are covering him, wasn’t finished.

He also quoted an unnamed speaker on the conservative One American News Network: “‘Meanwhile, the Dayton, Ohio, shooter had a history of supporting political figures like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and ANTIFA.’ @OANN”

[Trump seeks cover from Fox News as criticism mounts]

Always eager to cast himself as a victim of other media outlets, Trump added this: “I hope other news outlets will report this as opposed to Fake News. Thank you!”

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