For President Donald Trump, his visits on Wednesday to El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio ― two cities struck by tragic mass shootings just days ago ― were what he described as “amazing.” For the swaths of frustrated protesters in both cities, however, the president’s visit was anything but.
Trump promised to unite the grieving, angry communities as he prepared to land in both cities. Instead, he spent the day posing for photo-ops in hospitals, attacking Democratic officials who have criticized him, and boasting about his rally crowd sizes ― something not unusual for the president.
Dayton Says, ‘Do Something’
Trump’s first stop was Dayton, where a white gunman killed nine people and injured at least 27 in the city’s downtown Oregon District early Sunday morning before police killed the shooter. The president was joined by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley (D), who have both criticized the president’s divisive rhetoric.
As Trump landed in Dayton to visit victims at Miami Valley Hospital, a clip from an NBC producer showed a long line of protesters near the medical center holding signs that read, “Do something,” “Words have consequences” and “You are why!”
Journalists were not allowed to accompany Trump into the hospital. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said the visit was about meeting with victims and not a “photo op,” according to a press pool report.
But the visit did indeed turn into a photo-op, with both the president and the White House tweeting photos of the president posing with patients, first responders and medical staff. Trump then tweeted a campaign-style video of his visit.
A few hundred demonstrators lined the sidewalk across from the entrance to the hospital, Los Angeles Times reporter Eli Stokols said. Some people had Trump campaign flags, and one had a handwritten sign that said “Impeach.”
“I usually am not able to come protest something like this, but I do not feel like this is a place where Trump should come for a photo-op on our dead people,” Dayton resident Lynell Graham told CNN. “He has made it clear he’s not sincere. ... We didn’t want him here.”
After the hospital visit, Trump, Grisham and White House social media director Dan Scavino falsely accused Brown and Whaley of misrepresenting the type of reception the president got at the hospital.
“Very SAD to see Ohio Senator Brown, & Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley - LYING & completely mischaracterizing what took place w/ the President’s visit to Miami Valley Hospital today,” Scavino tweeted Wednesday afternoon. “They are disgraceful politicians, doing nothing but politicizing a mass shooting, at every turn they can...The President was treated like a Rock Star inside the hospital, which was all caught on video. They all loved seeing their great President!”
Grisham echoed Scavino’s sentiment to CNN, saying the two officials’ comments are “disgusting.” Trump also tweeted a similar claim, saying he received “tremendous enthusiasm & even Love” and “saw failed Presidential Candidate (0%) Sherrod Brown & Mayor Whaley totally misrepresenting what took place inside of the hospital.”
On the contrary, Brown said at a joint press conference with Whaley after the hospital visit that Trump “was received well by the patients, as you’d expect. They’re hurting.” Whaley added, “I think the victims and the first responders were grateful that the president of the United States came to Dayton.”
Both Democrats have criticized Trump’s racist rhetoric, and Whaley said it was good the president didn’t visit the Oregon District because of the community’s “anger” toward him. But neither alleged Trump was poorly received at the hospital.
Protests Continue in El Paso
Trump left on Wednesday to visit El Paso, where just hours before the Dayton shooting another white gunman opened fire at a Walmart, killing 22 people and injuring dozens more. That gunman is believed to have written a white supremacist screed expressing hatred for Latinos and echoing the same racist, xenophobic rhetoric that Trump regularly uses to attack Black and brown people.
The only local political official to welcome the president was Mayor Dee Margo. City Council members, Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) all warned Trump to not visit the city, which sits on the U.S.-Mexico border and has a large Latino population.
The president visited shooting victims at University Medical Center in El Paso as well, where a pool report said journalists were also not allowed in. Protesters, Trump supporters and police swarmed outside the hospital, according to the El Paso Times. At the same time, Escobar and O’Rourke held a rally against the president’s visit.
After his visit, Trump told reporters that he had “an amazing day” visiting cities that are dealing with trauma, and he boasted of residents’ “respect for the office of the presidency.” He then talked about his popularity at hospitals where victims were being treated, immediately following up with more attacks on Ohio’s Brown and Whaley.
Trump reportedly called the shooter a “coward” while speaking to El Paso police, according to BuzzFeed reporter Claudia Koerner. He added, without much context, “He gave up, just gave up.”
The president continued on, telling law enforcement about his February campaign-style rally in El Paso, alleging he “could have sold it out four times,” according to Koerner. The president still owes El Paso nearly $570,000 for the rally, at which he fueled anti-immigrant sentiments.
Trump ended his day of visits to mass shooting victims by accusing Democrats of unfairly calling him a racist and saying victims “have been through so much. Sad!”