President Donald Trump on Tuesday will travel to Pittsburgh to visit with family members of the victims of a Saturday shooting at a synagogue that left 11 dead.
The shooting was a “chilling act of mass murder” and an “act of evil,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said as she fought back tears. She called anti-Semitism a “plague to humanity.”
During a rare press briefing, she also called for all Americans to rally around the country’s Jewish community.
Trump will travel to the southwest Pennsylvania city over the objections of Jewish leaders, who said Sunday he is not welcome due to his sharp rhetoric, which they and other critics say spawns racial and religious emotions that can lead to violence.
Asked if the president plans to tone down his rally rhetoric and personal attacks on Democrats, Sanders said he will “continue to draw contrasts” and “continue to fight back” when his critics go after him.
Robert Bowers, 46, allegedly stormed into the Squirrel Hill borough synagogue and opened fire with an AR-15 rifle and two handguns, leaving in his wake a slew of anti-Semitic and other race-based social media posts.
Trump said Saturday after the shooting that there is no need for stricter gun laws, instead telling reporters before traveling to a campaign rally in Illinois that he believes the religious facility should have had armed guards. At an official event before that rally, Trump told a Future Farmers of America conference in Indianapolis, that he felt an “obligation” to lead the campaign rally even though he didn’t want to go to avoid making the perpetrators of violent acts “too important.”
After the shooting and a string of pipe bombs sent to prominent Democrats and CNN by a Florida man who was arrested Friday, the president has called for the country to come together. Those remarks largely were scripted ones prepared by his staff.
Once Trump has ventured off those written statements at unscripted campaign rallies in recent days, however, at a Friday night rally in Charlotte he returned to his sharp pre-midterms lines about Democrats, painting a bleak picture of what he wants his base to believe they would do if they can win control of the House or Senate – or both.
But after the shooting, the president told the Murphysboro, Illinois, audience this: “If you don’t mind, I’m going to tone it down just a bit.”
Some in the audience, many wearing clothing or wearing signs depicting his “Make America Great Again” slogan, shouted, “No.”
Sanders also slammed the media for, in her view, instantly blamed Trump for motivating both men to act.
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