Critics question whether Trump visit to El Paso and Dayton will help the healing​

Updated: Aug 8, 2019

President Donald Trump will travel Wednesday to the scenes of back-to-back mass shootings that stunned the nation and left at least 31 people dead, but his planned appearances in Ohio and Texas aren't being well received by all local officials, some of whom say it would be best if the commander in chief avoided their grief-stricken cities.

Exact plans for Trump's visits to Dayton and El Paso haven't been released, and were still being finalized by White House advance teams Tuesday afternoon.

But aides said they expected Trump to visit with some combination of first responders, medical personnel and victims' families when he makes brief stops in each city alongside first lady Melania Trump. On visits to sites of tragedy, the President often makes impromptu remarks, a scenario aides haven't ruled out for his Wednesday stops.

The question his critics have is whether he will comfort their cities in mourning or deepen the divisions.

Trump has at most moments of his presidency appeared more focused on driving a divisive political message than acting as a unifier. While he has expressed intense interest in appearing "presidential," including through the military trappings of the job, he has not eagerly adopted the tone his predecessors have used from the Oval Office or other official settings.

The exceptions have usually come after national tragedies, when Trump has dutifully delivered straight-to-camera remarks from a teleprompter and visited with grieving families.

But oftentimes the President returns to the same type of aggressive language in the hours and days afterward.

This time, Trump has appeared sensitive to accusations he is racist or that his past language, including references to an "invasion" of undocumented immigrants, could have contributed to the attack in El Paso, whose perpetrator used similar language in a manifesto.

A line in Trump's Monday speech condemning white supremacy was added by his staff at the last minute, a person familiar with it said.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham denied this. She said, "At the direction of the President, condemning white supremacy was in every draft of the speech. I would challenge whoever says otherwise to have the courage to go on the record with their lies."

But Trump quickly returned to picking partisan fights over the shooting. On Twitter Tuesday night, he mocked former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who has blamed Trump's rhetoric as a motivator behind the El Paso shooting and called on him to not visit the city, for going by "Beto" rather than "Robert," calling it a "phony name to indicate Hispanic heritage."

And on Wednesday morning, he referenced a Twitter account that appeared to belong to the Dayton shooter that retweeted messages supporting Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, suggesting that left-wing politics played a role in the massacre. The FBI, however, has not suggested a political motivation in Dayton.

High-profile residents split on welcoming Trump

But the contents of Trump's address, which included no calls for expanding background checks or taking other major steps to restrict access to firearms, did not satisfy some of the local officials the President will encounter on Wednesday.

Democratic Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said Tuesday that she planned to meet with Trump when he travels there midday Wednesday. But she previewed a pointed message for her face-to-face with the President.

"His rhetoric has been painful for many in the community," Whaley said. She said his remarks from the White House on Monday "fell really short."