Trump to visit El Paso mass shooting site, in spite of Dems' warning to stay away
El Paso, Texas, Mayor Dee Margo told reporters on Monday that President Trump will visit the city on Wednesday, even as several prominent Democrats indirectly blamed the president for Saturday's mass shooting there -- with some warning him, in frank terms, to stay away.
News of Trump's planned appearance teed up a potentially bitter national political moment just four days after suspected gunman Patrick Crusius, 21, allegedly opened fire at a Walmart and killed 22 people while injuring more than two dozen others.
"He is president of the United States," Margo, a Republican, told reporters. "So in that capacity, I will fulfill my obligations as mayor of El Paso, and hope that if we are expressing specifics that we can get him to come through for us."
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The mayor said he anticipated "political spin" and was “already getting the emails and the phone calls” from individuals "with lots of time on their hands," but that his focus remains on his community, not politics. He added that Trump had called and was "very gracious" and offered any support necessary.
“We’re dealing with a tragedy of 22 people who have perished by the hateful, evil act of a white supremacist,” Margo said. “I don’t know how we deal with evil. I don’t have a textbook for dealing with it other than the Bible.
"I’m sorry. We are going to go through this," he continued. "The president is coming out. I will meet with the president. I guess for people who have lots of time on their hands, I will deal with the emails and phone calls.”
The White House has not confirmed Trump's schedule, or whether he will also visit Dayton, Ohio -- where a gunman who reportedly supported the violent left-wing group Antifa, as well as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, killed nine people over the weekend. But the Federal Aviation Administration has advised pilots of a presidential visit Wednesday to both El Paso and Dayton.
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat, told reporters that she had "not gotten a call" about a presidential visit as of late Monday, and didn't have more details.
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But both before and after Margo's announcement, several Democrats forcefully urged Trump not to visit El Paso. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, who represents the district that is home to the Walmart where Saturday’s shooting took place, lashed out at the president on Monday morning -- placing some of the blame for the weekend’s tragedy at his feet.
“The president has made my community and my people the enemy,” she told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“He has told the country that we are people to be feared, people to be hated," Escobar continued. "From my perspective, he is not welcome here. He should not come here while we are in mourning.”
And Democratic presidential candidate Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, urged Margo in a televised interview to "quietly" tell Trump that he is not "welcome" in the city, because of his rhetoric on immigration.
Ryan has escalated his language in the last 24 hours, as he struggles to raise his political profile. He tweeted “Fck me” after Trump mistakenly, at one point in his televised remarks earlier in the day, said the Ohio shooting took place in Toledo and not Dayton.
For Ryan, the language appeared to be part of a deliberate approach: Earlier Monday, the longshot candidate went on CNN and tore into Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, saying, "Mitch McConnell needs to get off his a-- and do something.” On Sunday, he tweeted: “Republicans need to get their s--- together and stop pandering to the NRA. Period.”
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Sanders also called out the president, saying "I say to President Trump, please stop the racist anti-immigrant rhetoric. Stop the hatred in this country which is creating the kind of violence that we see."
In 2017, a far-left Sanders supporter fired upon a Republican congressional baseball practice, critically wounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and injuring three others before U.S. Capitol Police took him down. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said the gunman was screaming, "This is for healthcare." Sanders did not take responsibility for that episode.
Trump, for his part, on Monday called for reforms at the intersection of mental health and gun laws -- including so-called "red flag laws" to take guns from those deemed a public risk -- in the wake of the back-to-back mass shootings over the weekend, which left at least 31 people dead in total.
The Trump administration previously enacted an unprecedented ban on firearm bump stocks that enable weapons to fire with greater rapidity, like machine guns -- and the ban was recently upheld by the Supreme Court. The move came after a 2017 massacre in Las Vegas, Nevada killed 58 people.
In unequivocal terms, the president on Monday also condemned white supremacy, responding to reports that the shooter in El Paso wrote a racist manifesto ahead of the violence. The manifesto specifically said that Trump's rhetoric was not to blame for the shooting, and said the shooter's views "predate" Trump's presidential campaign.
However, some observers cautioned that mass shooters are increasingly using disingenuous manifestos primarily as a means to cause division and sow political discord, rather than to advance a particular agenda. Crusius became the third mass shooter this year believed to have posted to the website 8Chan, which is a haven for both ironic trolls and racists, prior to going on a shooting rampage.
"The first mistake people are making is to assume the creep meant anything he said in his manifesto," wrote columnist Brian Cates. "Something new has been added into the mix in the last year and we have to recognize it: Mass shootings done for **fun** as the ultimate troll where these [shooters] write confusing manifestos and then sit back & watch the fun as both sides claim he belongs to the other."
Cates pointed out that the Christchurch, New Zealand mass shooter's manifesto contained a mixture of left-wing and right-wing rhetoric, and by its own explicit terms, was intended to cause international political division. The purported El Paso manifesto, like the New Zealand shooter's manifesto, also espoused eco-fascist principles and lamented the destruction of the environment.
Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden falsely suggested after Trump's remarks that Monday was the first time the president had condemned white supremacy.
Later, McConnell – a Republican who has been lambasted by Democrats for refusing to allow votes on gun control legislation – said Monday he is willing to consider “bipartisan” solutions in the wake of the mass shootings, though he emphasized that he opposes gun control policies that infringe “on Americans’ constitutional rights.”
Democrats have been demanding McConnell recall Congress from its current recess, which is slated to run to the second week of September, to address the matter.
The political fight over Trump's visit came amid a series of rapid-fire developments in the investigations in both El Paso and Dayton. Crusius was booked on capital murder charges, and authorities said Sunday that he is under investigation for alleged domestic terrorism. Officials were also looking into whether hate crime charges are appropriate.
El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza said his office will seek the death penalty against the suspect.
"The loss of life is so great, we certainly have never seen this in our community. We are a very safe community," he told reporters at a news conference on Sunday. "We pride ourselves on the fact that we're so safe, and certainly this community is rocked, shocked and saddened by what has happened here yesterday."
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El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said Monday that the gunman got lost in a neighborhood before ending up at Walmart "because, we understand, he was hungry." Allen didn't elaborate. Crusius' hometown is the affluent Dallas suburb of Allen.
The police chief said the gun used in the shooting was legally purchased near the suspect's hometown.
In his application for a public defender on Monday, Crusius said he has been unemployed for five months, and has no income, assets or expenses. He claimed he has been living with his grandparents.
In Ohio, authorities revealed that the gunman in the Dayton rampage, 24-year-old Connor Betts, opened fire outside a bar around 1 a.m. Sunday, killing his adult sister and eight others. Police say he was fatally shot by officers within 30 seconds, and was wearing a mask, bulletproof vest, earplugs and had at least 100 rounds.
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Authorities provided a dramatic video of officers rushing onto the scene and taking Betts out before he could enter another packed bar.
Police had not determined a motive for the attack as of Monday evening. Reports linked him to Antifa, and showed that he supported Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Betts was armed with an AR-15-style rifle, police said. If all of the magazines he had with him were full, which hasn't been confirmed, he would have had a maximum of 250 rounds, said Police Chief Richard Biehl.
"It is fundamentally problematic. To have that level of weaponry in a civilian environment is problematic," Biehl added.
Of the more than 30 people injured in Ohio, at least 14 had gunshot wounds; others were hurt as people fled, city officials said. Eleven remained hospitalized Monday, Fire Chief Jeffrey Payne said.
Still unknown is whether Betts targeted any of the victims, including his 22-year-old sister, Megan, the youngest of the dead.
"It seems to just defy believability he would shoot his own sister, but it's also hard to believe that he didn't recognize it was his sister, so we just don't know," Biehl said.
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While the gunman was white and six of the nine killed were black, police said the speed of the rampage made any discrimination in the shooting seem unlikely.
Fox News' Liam Quinn, Brooke Singman, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.