U.S. President Donald Trump met victims and first responders from last weekend’s deadly shootings in El Paso Texas and Dayton Ohio on Wednesday, and chanting protesters accused him of inflaming tensions with anti-immigrant and racially charged rhetoric.
In El Paso, on the border with Mexico, Trump visited the University Medical Center where wounded victims were treated after a man who had posted an anti-immigrant manifesto online killed 22 people at a Walmart store on Saturday.
Hundreds of protesters, some holding signs reading “Trump is racist,” “Love over hate” and “Send him back!,” gathered under a broiling sun at a nearby park to condemn Trump and his presence in El Paso.
The back-to-back massacres have reopened the national debate over gun safety.
As he left the White House, Trump said he wanted to strengthen background checks for gun purchases and make sure mentally ill people did not carry guns. He predicted congressional support for those two measures but not for banning assault rifles.
“I can tell you that there is no political appetite for that at this moment,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “But I will certainly bring that up … There is a great appetite, and I mean a very strong appetite, for background checks.”
Former Texas congressman and El Paso native Beto O’Rourke, another 2020 presidential contender, said Trump “helped create the hatred that made Saturday’s tragedy possible” and thus “has no place here.”
Asked on MSNBC on Wednesday if Trump is a white supremacist, O’Rourke said: “He is. He’s also made that very clear.”
U.S. Representative Veronica Escobar, a Democrat whose congressional district includes El Paso, declined a White House invitation to join Trump in the city and said that the president “is not welcome here.”
“Members of our community, Hispanics and Mexicans and immigrants, have been dehumanized. That’s the bottom line: we’ve been dehumanized by the president and by his words,” she told the protest rally in El Paso.
Not everyone agreed that Trump should stay away.
“This is not a political visit,” El Paso Mayor Dee Margo told reporters. “He is president of the United States. So in that capacity, I will fulfill my obligations as mayor of El Paso to meet with the president and discuss whatever our needs are in this community.”