Updated at 2:35 p.m. ET
President Trump visited with survivors of the shooting in Dayton, Ohio Wednesday, before heading to El Paso, Texas, the site of the weekend’s other deadly violence.
Few details were available after his only Dayton stop, a visit to the Miami Valley Hospital. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeted the President and first lady Melania Trump met with patients and stopped between rooms to thank the “hardworking medical staff. Very powerful moments for all!”
As he left the White House on Wednesday morning, Trump told reporters he was optimistic about reaching a deal with Congress on expanded background check legislation. “There is a great appetite, and I mean a very strong appetite for background checks,” he said. But Trump said there was “no political appetite” for banning assault-style weapons, despite public polling that indicates otherwise.
Trump also denied his rhetoric had anything to do with the El Paso shootings. “I think my rhetoric brings people together,” Trump said. He said he was concerned about “the rise of any group of hate … whether it’s white supremacy, any type of supremacy, antifa,” referring to loosely organized left-wing groups. He said of the Dayton shooter, “he was a fan of antifa, he was a fan of Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, nothing to do with Trump.”
Trump tweeted Tuesday that he will be meeting with “first responders, law enforcement, and some of the victims of the terrible shootings.” He did not mention the mayors of El Paso and Dayton, though both have said they expect to meet with the president.
On Saturday, a shooter entered a Walmart in El Paso, killing at least 22 people and wounding dozens of others. A white nationalist screed allegedly posted by the suspect indicated he was motivated by a rising Hispanic “invasion,” which is similar to language Trump has used in reference to the flow of migrants across the southern border. Early Sunday morning, another person opened fire outside a Dayton bar, killing nine people.
Dayton mayor: “That’s up to the president”
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat, told reporters on Tuesday that she was “disappointed” with Trump’s response so far and with his failure to push for stricter gun laws. Whaley said she plans to tell Trump that when they meet.
Asked whether Trump could help unite her community, Whaley replied, “Everyone has it in their power to be a force to bring people together, and everybody has it in their power to be a force to bring people apart. That’s up to the president of the United States.”
On whether Trump was visiting too soon, Whaley said, “Look, he’s the president of the United States — he does his calendar, I do mine.”
She also dismissed Trump mistakenly referring to Dayton as “Toledo” in his address to the nation on Monday as an example of “people from the coast” not understanding Ohio, “and they think all Ohio cities are the same.”
Fact checks and late fees in El Paso
Trump has offended the city of El Paso, too, with repeated claims earlier this year that a border wall erected in El Paso turned it from “one of the most dangerous cities” to “one of the safest.” Statistics have shown that happened long before the wall was erected — and that El Paso has never been one of the most dangerous cities in the country.
El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, a Republican, has been critical of Trump’s comments about the city in the past.
In the wake of the shooting, Margo said on Monday, “I will continue to challenge any harmful and inaccurate statements made about El Paso. We will not allow anyone to portray El Paso in a manner that is not consistent with our history and values.”
But, he added, “I will fulfill my obligations as mayor of El Paso to meet with the president and discuss whatever our needs are in this community and hope that if we are expressing specifics that we can get him to come through for us.”
Congresswoman cancels on Trump
Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, who represents El Paso, wrote in a series of tweets that she had asked for a call with the president on Tuesday to talk about his “responsibility to acknowledge the power of his words, apologize for them, and take them back because they are still hanging over us,” in order to facilitate “a dialogue that could lead to healing.”
However, she said she was told that Trump was “‘too busy’ to have that conversation,” and as a result she declined an invitation to join the president on his trip.
“I refuse to be an accessory to his visit,” Escobar said. “I refuse to join without a dialogue about the pain his racist and hateful words & actions have caused our community and country.”
In addition to his words on immigration, President Trump’s attacks on people of color in Congress in recent weeks have been blasted as racist.
Speaking at the White House on Monday morning, though, Trump declared, “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy.”