President Trump on Wednesday complained of a double standard in the political response to the mass shootings over the weekend -- as he headed to the sites of those tragedies to pay his respects and offer support for victims and law enforcement.
Trump’s visits to El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio are likely to be tense, emotional and politically charged as he visits the sites where 31 people were killed and dozens more injured in two shootings.
"It's a terrific opportunity really to congratulate some of the police and law enforcement, the job they've done is incredible, really incredible," he said.
Democrats and media pundits have cited reports that the El Paso shooter was a white nationalist who penned a manifesto against Hispanic immigrants -- before killing 22, many of them Mexican nationals -- in linking the murder to the president’s own rhetoric on immigration. Joe Biden plans to make that connection in a fiery speech Wednesday afternoon.
But, speaking to reporters as he boarded Marine One at the White House, Trump noted reports that the shooter in Dayton supported Antifa, along with Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. The Associated Press reported that a Twitter account believed to be from gunman Connor Betts showed tweets labeling himself a “leftist,” bemoaning the election of President Donald Trump, supporting Warren and encouraging people to cut fences of immigrant detention centers.
“The Dayton situation, he was a fan of Antifa, he was a fan of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, nothing to do with Trump, but nobody ever mentions that,” he said, adding that he doesn’t blame either Sanders or Warren for that shooting, instead saying the shooters were “sick people.”
He said that he was being hit "left and right from everybody" in recent days.
On Tuesday night, he sparred with El Paso native Beto O’Rourke, who had compared Trump’s rhetoric to that heard in Nazi Germany.
“That is a leader reveling in the hatred and the racism of the people that he purports to serve and to lead," he said. Trump later tweeted that O’Rourke should “be quiet” and respect the victims of the shooting and law enforcement.
On Wednesday, however, he said he was trying to stay out of the political fray.
"My critics are political people, they’re trying to make points in many cases they're running for president and are very low in the polls,” he said. “These are people looking for political gain, and I don't think they’re getting it and, as much as possible, I've tried to stay out of it.”
But moments after those remarks, he was asked about remarks made by former Vice President Joe Biden, who said Trump's rhetoric was closer to that of former Alabama Gov. George Wallace than George Washington. Trump called Biden "incompetent."
"Joe Biden has truly lost his fastball, that I can tell you," he said.
Democrats have also blasted Trump and other Republicans for what they see inaction on the question of gun control. Trump on Monday had indicated his support for enhanced background checks, but in a speech later in the day did not make reference to any such legislative action.
On Wednesday, he was much more forceful in his calls, saying there was a “strong appetite” for it in Congress and he had had "plenty of talks" with members of congressional leadership.
“I’m looking to do background checks, I think background checks are important, I don't want to put guns into the hands of mentally unstable people or people with rage or hate, sick people...I’m all for it,” he said.
However, on the question of immigration, Trump responded to questions about the role his own rhetoric played in the El Paso shooting by doubling down on his view of the “terrible” effect illegal immigration has on the U.S.
"I think illegal immigration is a terrible thing for this country, I think you have to come in legally, ideally you have to come in through merit, we need people coming in,” he said, before touting efforts made by his administration in building a wall on the southern border.
“We need strong immigration laws, but we want to allow millions of people to come in, because we need them, we have companies coming in from Japan, all over Europe, all over Asia, they're opening up companies here, they need people to work, we have a very low unemployment rate,” he said.
He also rejected the claim that his rhetoric is a divisive force in the country: “It brings people together.”