Trump urged unity after shootings. But White House is hitting Dems hard

President heads to Dayton and El Paso as his team criticizes political opponents

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump will take Air Force One to Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, on Wednesday after mass shootings in both cities. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump will take Air Force One to Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, on Wednesday after mass shootings in both cities. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 7, 2019 at 5:00am

President Donald Trump’s warnings about political divisions hindering efforts to stave off future mass shootings began to erode Tuesday at his own White House, as he and senior aides took not-so-veiled shots at Democrats.

The president will spend time Wednesday with some family members of the victims of deadly weekend shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, and others, 48 hours after warning of the dangers of political division and calling for unity.

“The president is the president of all the people. And what he wants to do is go to these communities and grieve with them, pray with them, offer condolences, and quite frankly, offer a thank you and appreciation to those first responders who put their lives on the line and were able to take out the shooter so quickly, [to] those Americans who put their bodies in harm’s way,” Hogan Gidley, the White House principal deputy press secretary, said Tuesday.

“And he also wants to talk about potential solutions and how we can prevent this from happening again,” Trump’s No. 2 spokesman added, declining to mention any specific bill or idea the president might endorse or propose.

[Trump seeks cover from Fox News as criticism mounts]

However, Gidley and other West Wing aides — as well as the president — criticized Democrats just a day after Trump in a White House address warned against just such talk.

Asked if Trump plans to cool his rhetoric about undocumented migrants and minority lawmakers, Gidley pivoted to Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman from El Paso.

“It seems to me he’s less concerned about the safety of Americans and more concerned with where he caucuses. And that’s problematic in many ways because, quite frankly, that type of rhetoric is irresponsible,” Gidley said.

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Gidley was referring to comments O’Rourke made Sunday at an El Paso vigil when asked if there was anything Trump could do to make the situation better.

“What do you think? You know the s— he’s been saying,” the 2020 hopeful shot back. “He’s been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. I don’t know, like, members of the press, what the f—?”

A day later, O’Rourke tweeted: “This president, who helped create the hatred that made Saturday’s tragedy possible, should not come to El Paso. We do not need more division. We need to heal. He has no place here.”

Another Democrat, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, said he would keep his distance from the president when he visited Dayton. 

“I will not be there with him. I don’t have any interest because of what he’s done on this, total unwillingness to address the issue of guns, his racist rhetoric,” Brown told Sirius XM on Tuesday. “I don’t know what he’s going to say and do there. I welcome him to the state in some sense, but not about this.”

Senior White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Tuesday also jabbed at Democrats, singling out Speaker Nancy Pelosi for being on a congressional delegation to Italy and Africa. 

“I also read the Democrats have mixed feelings about returning because I’m sure they have other plans this summer,” Conway told reporters. “I’m sure that they are in their town hall meetings explaining why they have done absolutely nothing on drug pricing, on infrastructure, on keeping the economy humming along on trade deals, on the [proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal], which should be up for a vote.” (One piece of legislation the House has passed is a gun background checks measure that is awaiting Senate action.)

Conway also accused Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who’s running for president, of “raising money off of these tragedies on behalf of Sen. Tina Smith in Minnesota and Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama.”

The conservative Washington Free Beacon on Monday reported on a Warren fundraising email sent on behalf of her Democratic colleagues in which she panned Republican lawmakers. “It’s clear Republicans don’t have the courage to do something about this crisis. We can’t wait for them to act — because they won’t,” Warren wrote, according to the news site.

Conway and Gidley both ticked off a list of pervious gun-related mass murders or other attacks using firearms. Both said they would never connect Democratic politicians to those tragedies — while doing just that.

“There are plenty of people in this country who commit acts of evil in the names of politicians, of celebrities and all types of things. It’s not the politician’s fault when someone acts out their evil intention,” Gidley said. “I just have to say, we would never dream of blaming Elizabeth Warren for the [Dayton] shooter who supports Elizabeth Warren.”

“We would never dream of blaming [New York Rep. Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez for someone who perpetrated a terrorist attack on a [Takoma, Washington] DHS ICE facility because he used the same rhetoric she uses about [migrant] ‘concentration camps,’” Gidley said.

[Protesters rally outside Sen. McConnell’s home in Kentucky]

“We would also never blame Barack Obama for the police shootings in Dallas,” he said, alluding to the 44th president’s sometimes-critical words about law enforcement tactics. “We wouldn’t blame [Vermont Sen.] Bernie Sanders for the shooting of [House GOP Whip] Steve Scalise or other Republicans. And, quite frankly, it’s ridiculous to make those connections in some way. … You have to blame the people here who pulled the trigger.”

‘Out of control’

Then there was the president. One of his tweets Tuesday featured a quote he attributed to Fox News personality Brian Kilmeade of “Fox & Friends.”

“President Obama had 32 mass shootings during his reign. Not many people said Obama is out of control,” Kilmeade said, adding that mass murders using guns were occurring on U.S. soil before Trump considered a White House bid.

In May, Trump appeared to be amused by a supporter at a political rally in Panama City Beach, Florida, who yelled, “Shoot them,” about Latino migrants after Trump said the government couldn’t stop them from entering the U.S. He also has also referred to individuals of Central and South American descent “killers” and “rapists.”

Trump has talked numerous times about an “invasion” of Latino migrants, something the alleged El Paso shooter mentioned in a manifesto he posted online about 20 minutes before his killing spree.

One of Kilmeade’s morning co-hosts, Ainsley Earhardt, according to another Trump tweet, said Democrats want to “push that racist narrative” because the 2020 election is “around the corner.”

But White House aides returned to their talking points to cast Trump as above the fray.

“The president recognizes the gravity of this moment,” Gidley said.