President Trump traveled to El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio on Wednesday, two cities grieving after separate mass shootings killed at least 31 people over the weekend.
The visits are a "terrific opportunity to congratulate" local police and law enforcement, Trump told reporters as he left the White House. The president, however, was greeted with large protests in both cities as residents and lawmakers expressed their anger over Trump's divisive leadership and refusal to support stricter gun control measures.
While in Dayton, Trump met with survivors and their families at a local hospital, and thanked first responders and hospital staff for their efforts.
Trump was accompanied by Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, and Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown. The city's congressman, Rep. Mike Turner, and his daughter — who was in the entertainment district Sunday morning when a gunman killed nine people — also joined the president.
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham wrote on Twitter that the hospital visit had "very powerful moments for all!" The president did not visit the memorials at the scene of the shooting.
Protesters lined the streets around the hospital, calling on Trump to take action to curb gun violence. The now well-known "Trump baby" balloon was also present, adorned with a banner that read: "Stop being a baby. Stand up to the NRA."
Sen. Brown, a Democrat, said on Wednesday that he wrestled with how to handle Trump's visit, adding in a statement that he decided to take the "opportunity to look the President in the eye" and urge him to "stop using racist hate speech to divide Americans."
At a press conference following Trump's visit, Brown said that he also pressured the president to urge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to schedule a vote on stricter gun control legislation and to help McConnell "break his addiction to gun lobbyist money."
Whaley — who on Tuesday called on residents to "stand up" and express their concerns during Trump's visit — also said the president was wise to avoid the site of the shooting, given the indignation held by business owners and local residents in the area.
Later on Twitter, Trump called Brown and Whaley's press conference "a fraud."
Demonstrators gather in front of an inflatable "Baby Trump" to protest the visit of President Trump in Dayton, Ohio. Photo Credit: John Minchillo/AP/Shutterstock
From Dayton, Trump traveled to El Paso, a city still on edge after a gunman killed at least 22 people at a Walmart on Saturday in what is being investigated as a case of domestic terrorism. In a racist manifesto believed to be from the suspect, which mirrored rhetoric used by Trump when speaking about immigrants, the shooter said he was specifically targeting Hispanics to stop their "invasion of Texas."
"I think my rhetoric brings people together," Trump said on Wednesday in response to a question about the gunman parroting his language. The president also said he is concerned about hate groups "whether it's white supremacy, whether it's any other kind of supremacy."
Trump's official 2020 reelection campaign ran roughly 2,200 ads on Facebook warning of an "invasion" at the U.S. southern border, according to a Facebook's Ad Library analysis.
Like in Dayton, Trump was greeted in El Paso with large demonstrations and organized protests by local activist groups. The president, the first lady, and their entourage visited the University Medical Center of El Paso to meet with survivors and law enforcement.
El Paso Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar, who succeeded now 2020 hopeful Beto O'Rourke, refused an invitation to accompany Trump after the White House, she said, denied her a phone call with the president ahead of his visit.
"I refuse to be an accessory to his visit. I refuse to join without a dialogue about the pain his racist and hateful words & actions have caused our community and country," Escobar said on Twitter.
In February, Trump visited El Paso to hold a rally, during which he declared that murders committed by undocumented immigrants plagued the city — a claim that was strongly rebuked by the city's Republican Mayor, Dee Margo.
Earlier this week, Democratic state Rep. César Blanco, who represents El Paso, told Cheddar that Trump's "hateful anti-Latino, anti-immigrant" rhetoric created the fraught atmosphere at the border that led to the Walmart shooting.
On Wednesday, Trump attacked his critics as "political people" who are "looking for political gain," specifically targeting 2020 Democratic candidates.
"22 people in my hometown are dead after an act of terror inspired by your racism. El Paso will not be quiet and neither will I," former Rep. Beto O'Rourke said on Twitter in a response to a direct attack from Trump.