White House

Trump dings Biden during post-shootings trip, as lawmakers handle visits differently

‘Take these assault weapons off the streets,’ Sherrod Brown tells president in Dayton

Demonstrators line a street in Dayton, Ohio, on Wednesday before a visit from President Donald Trump. From there, he visited El Paso, Texas. Both cities were scenes of mass shootings last weekend that collectively left 31 people dead and dozens wounded. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump met privately Wednesday in Ohio and Texas with survivors of two deadly mass shootings, but he found time to publicly ridicule 2020 Democratic front-runner Joe Biden as several local lawmakers took differing approaches to his visits.

The day’s traveling press pool was not allowed access to Trump and first lady Melania Trump as they met with shooting survivors and local officials at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham told reporters aboard Air Force One as the president flew to El Paso, Texas, for a similar meeting that Trump was not there for a “photo op.” (The White House, however, released its own photos in a tweet.)

Both legs of the post-carnage trip, which has put pressure for Trump and Congress to act, were “about the victims and their families and thanking medical staff,” Grisham said, according to reporters traveling with the president.

Trump and his staff on Tuesday and Wednesday morning contradicted his Monday call for political unity following the shootings — which left 31 dead — by criticizing Democratic lawmakers and former President Barack Obama. But Trump told reporters as he left the White House on Wednesday he wanted to stay above the “political fray.”

Grisham said Trump had several “warm” messages for the people he met at the hospital in Dayton — asking questions like “How are you feeling?” “We’re with you” and “We’re sorry this happened to you.” 

Trump was joined in Dayton by Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown and the city’s Democratic mayor, Nan Whaley, who both harshly criticized his rhetoric and shootings response. 

The two politicians spoke to reporters after Air Force One had taken off from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base en route to El Paso, with Brown saying he urged Trump to drop his effort to repeal the Obama-era health care law or slash Medicaid. The senator said both moves would cut off care for individuals with mental health issues, which Trump has said is driving the mass-shootings epidemic — not access to firearms.

That wasn’t the only message Brown said he had for the president.

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

“We had just met with police officers [and] I said, ‘Mr. President, respectfully … the most important thing you can do for these police officers is take these assault weapons off the streets so they don’t have to go up against them,” said Brown, who reported no visible reaction from Trump.

“It wasn’t about supportive or not supportive,” Grisham said when asked about the tone of Trump’s interactions with those Democrats. “I can tell you everybody received him very warmly.”

Both Brown and Whaley had initially been cool to a visit from the 45th president. That’s largely because they — and other Democrats — do not see him and GOP lawmakers as willing to pass meaningful legislation that might prevent future mass shootings.

The Ohio senator, who weighed a 2020 White House bid before staying out of his party’s crowded field, initially told Sirius XM radio on Tuesday he would not join Trump in Dayton. But he reversed himself the next morning, tweeting that he “wrestled with the right thing to do.”

Brown was among those who greeted the first couple as they deplaned in Ohio.

For GOP lawmakers and officials like Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and Gov. Mike DeWine (a former U.S. senator), the decision to appear with the president appeared to be an easier one.

“I’m grateful for @realdonaldtrump & @FLOTUS’s visit to #Dayton today to show their support for #Ohio after the tragic shootings this weekend. #Ohio is hurting, but our communities will continue to lift each other up as we heal,” Portman tweeted after the Trumps were airborne.

Ohio GOP Rep. Michael R. Turner, who represents Dayton, expressed no reservations about being alongside Trump. But he did break with the president following the attack that left nine people dead by expressing support for an assault weapons ban.

“I strongly support the Second Amendment, but we must prevent mentally unstable people from terrorizing our communities with military style weapons,” Turner said in a Tuesday statement. “The carnage these military style weapons are able to produce when available to the wrong people is intolerable.”

His daughter was across the street from the shooting scene. “As they ran home, I followed their progress & prayed for them & our community. Thank you to @DaytonPolice for their bravery in stopping this evil,” the GOP congressman tweeted Sunday morning.

Reporters traveling with Trump described scenes with “hundreds” of protesters lining streets as Trump’s large motorcade moved from Air Force One to Dayton and El Paso hospitals. Cable news network broadcast images of anti-Trump protestors, some with signs that read “Impeach,” and  supporters of the president in “Make America Great Again” gear.

One man in Ohio held a sign that read “Red Flag is Dystopic Future,” a reference to so-called red flag proposals, which Trump backs, that would allow police or family members to petition courts to temporarily remove firearms from people who pose a threat to themselves or others. 

[Trump seeks cover from Fox News as criticism mounts]

Like in Dayton, the chief executive and his wife were met by a list of local officials in Texas. This time, all were Republicans: Gov. Greg Abbott, Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and El Paso Mayor Dee Margo. Also in the official greeting party was Trump’s acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan.

Not among them? Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar, whose 16th District includes El Paso.

“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 tweeted on Tuesday about what she wanted to tell the president.

Escobar added that, ahead of the visit, she had requested a phone conversation with Trump — but was rebuffed by his staff, who said he was “too busy,” according to Escobar.

But the president was not too busy on Air Force One to reenter the exact “political fray” he said he wanted to “stay out of.”

“Watching Sleepy Joe Biden making a speech. Sooo Boring!” he said, asserting that if Biden defeats him next year, “our country will do poorly with him. It will be one big crash, but at least China will be happy!”

Biden delivered what his campaign aides dubbed a major speech in Iowa on Wednesday, in which he drew a direct line from white supremacy to Trump.

“How far is it from Trump’s saying, ‘This is an invasion’ to the shooter in El Paso declaring, ‘This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas?’” Biden said. “Not far at all.”

“The energetic embrace of this president by the darkest hearts, the most hate-filled minds in this country says it all,” the former vice president said. “We have a problem with a rising tide of white supremacy in America. And we have a president who encourages and emboldens it.”

Trump opted against disputing the substance of Biden’s remarks. Grisham had not responded to a reporter’s request for an explanation.

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