President Trump plans to visit El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, site of the back-to-back weekend shootings that forced a raw national debate about race and gun violence and spurred critics to question his ability to heal in a moment of crisis.
Mr. Trump will travel to both grieving communities Wednesday with first lady Melania Trump. He tweeted that he will meet “with First Responders, Law Enforcement, and some of the victims of the terrible shootings.”
The trip will again test Mr. Trump’s ability to serve as comforter-in-chief, an aspect of the role of president with which he has struggled in the past when faced with shootings or natural disasters. Even before he arrived, the president was facing criticism from Democratic officials in El Paso and Dayton
In El Paso, the shooting by a 21-year-old white man from suburban Dallas is being investigated as a hate crime motivated by anti-immigrant animosity, after an online manifesto purportedly written by the suspect described a potential mass shooting as a response to an “invasion of Texas” by Hispanic immigrants. In more than a half dozen tweets this year, Mr. Trump has referred to an invasion at the southern U.S. border, and a May statement issued by the White House said “hundreds of thousands of people coming through Mexico” had invaded the U.S.
Rep. Veronica Escobar (D., Texas), who represents El Paso, said Monday said that the president “should not come here while we are in mourning.” Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who represented El Paso in Congress before Ms. Escobar, accused the president of cultivating hate and violence.
“This president, who helped create the hatred that made Saturday’s tragedy possible, should not come to El Paso,” Mr. O’Rourke wrote on Twitter. “We do not need more division. We need to heal. He has no place here.”
In Dayton, Democratic Mayor Nan Whaley said she hoped Mr. Trump was “coming here because he wants to add value to our community and he recognizes that that’s what our community needs.” She added that she was disappointed by Mr. Trump’s remarks to the nation on Monday, saying “he mentioned gun issues one time.”
White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said Mr. Trump “is working to solve problems and unify people in the wake of tragic events.” And White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said it was important to the president to make the trip.
“This is something the president has done when Americans have faced tragedy in the past,” she said. “He’s gone to meet the hurricane devastated areas. He certainly went to Parkland, Fla., Las Vegas, Nev., after mass shootings there. And it has been his desire and his intention since he learned of these tragedies over the weekend to get on the ground and visit the people there.”
El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, a Republican, said at a news conference that he was welcoming the president in his official capacity, noting that he had been getting calls and emails about the visit.
Past trips to console after shootings have put Mr. Trump in the challenging position of going into communities where he isn’t entirely welcome. After the February 2018 shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school prompted a surge of gun-control activism, survivors, students and parents there said they wanted action, not a presidential visit.
Last October, when the president laid tributes to the victims of the slaying at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, protesters could be heard shouting nearby. The suspect in that killing had allegedly posted anti-Semitic messages on social media, and Jewish leaders had penned an open letter indicating the president wasn’t welcome in the city unless he firmly denounced white nationalists.
Mr. Trump’s approach, and his reception, contrasts with that of his predecessor. After the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., President Obama attended an evening vigil where he read aloud the names of each victim. Following a mass shooting at a South Carolina church, Mr. Obama led thousands in singing “Amazing Grace.”