Even on a day when he was thrust once again by gunmen into his consoler-in-chief role, President Donald Trump found new political enemies — and started throwing rhetorical elbows as the country reeled from two more gun massacres.
The president and first lady Melania Trump spent time Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, with the victims of weekend mass killings and law enforcement officers who neutralized the shooters. But before, during and after even his critics gave him points for consoling and spending time with those affected, the president appeared more focused on political sparring than emotional healing.
As Air Force One flew from Dayton to El Paso around mid-afternoon, the president was watching cable news networks. They covered former Vice President Joe Biden’s speech in Iowa that accused Trump of fanning the flames of white supremacy. And there was coverage of a news conference in Dayton by Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and the city’s mayor, Nan Whaley. What the two Democrats said riled up the president and his staff.
He took on Biden, calling the former VP’s speech “boring” but not disputing its substance.
In a pair of tweets, Trump accused Brown and Whaley of “misrepresenting what took place inside of the hospital,” adding that the news conference about their time with Trump at Miami Valley Hospital “was a fraud” and “bore no resemblance to what took place.” Senior Trump aides also blasted Brown and Whaley on Wednesday evening.
Just left Dayton, Ohio, where I met with the Victims & families, Law Enforcement, Medical Staff & First Responders. It was a warm & wonderful visit. Tremendous enthusiasm & even Love. Then I saw failed Presidential Candidate (0%) Sherrod Brown & Mayor Whaley totally…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 7, 2019
But the president and his aides, as they did throughout the day and evening, did not discuss the substance of what Brown and Whaley said. For instance, the senator said he urged Trump to drop his efforts to repeal the Obama-era Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid, saying both moves would limit care for mental health issues that Trump contends are driving the mass shooting epidemic. And he said he told Trump he could help law enforcement by trying to keep assault weapons off the streets.
Asked Thursday morning to explain just what team Trump sees as lies from the two Ohio Democrats, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham wrote in an email to Roll Call: “The two of them were disingenuous about the very few conversations they had during the visit.
“The president allowed them to be part of the entire visit, which was very gracious of him,” she said. “Their little press conference was clearly premeditated and not in the best interest of anyone but themselves. It’s a disservice to this country and I have a real problem with that.”
Grisham was asked in another email if she disputes that Brown brought up the ACA, Medicaid, mental health care and assault weapons. She did not respond.
Previous presidents have largely kept politics out of such trips after man-made tragedies or deadly weather events.
Whaley expressed confusion about Trump’s tweet during a Thursday morning interview on CNN. She said he was warmly welcomed and listened to what she and Brown said.
“I think he heard us. He didn’t say, ‘Hey, I’m going to pass a ‘red flag’ law or ban assault weapons … He didn’t make any promises. But I could tell he heard us,” she said.
Meantime, Trump on Wednesday also lashed out at Texas Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro, who on Monday tweeted a list of 44 Trump donors from San Antonio, half of which he represents. (Inconvenient to Castro, a handful made political donations to him and his brother, former Housing and Urban Development secretary and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.) “Their contributions are fueling a campaign of hate that labels Hispanic immigrants as ‘invaders,’” Joaquin Castro tweeted Monday.
As he often does when attempting to diminish an opponent, Trump claimed he doesn’t know who the congressman is, then turned to name-calling by labeling him “the lesser brother of a failed presidential candidate (1%) who makes a fool of himself every time he opens his mouth.”
“Joaquin is not the man that his brother is, but his brother, according to most, is not much. Keep fighting Joaquin!” the president wrote mockingly.
I don’t know who Joaquin Castro is other than the lesser brother of a failed presidential candidate (1%) who makes a fool of himself every time he opens his mouth. Joaquin is not the man that his brother is, but his brother, according to most, is not much. Keep fighting Joaquin!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 8, 2019
Trump wasn’t finished. The consoling done, he lashed out at all Democrats as he flew back to Washington.
He wrote that Democrats’ “new weapon is actually their old weapon, one which they never cease to use when they are down, or run out of facts, RACISM! They are truly disgusting!” He also promised to publish “a list of all people who have been so (ridiculously) accused!”
The Dems new weapon is actually their old weapon, one which they never cease to use when they are down, or run out of facts, RACISM! They are truly disgusting! They even used it on Nancy Pelosi. I will be putting out a list of all people who have been so (ridiculously) accused!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 8, 2019