The White House said Tuesday that Democrats shouldn’t blame President Trump’s rhetoric for mass shootings in Ohio and Texas, pointing to numerous examples when Democrats could unfairly be faulted for inciting violence.
“You have to blame the people here who pulled the trigger,” White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told reporters. “It’s not the politician’s fault when someone acts out their evil intention.”
A day before the president’s travel to the shooting scenes in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, the White House pushed back at Democrats who accuse the president’s anti-immigrant rhetoric of sparking the killings of at least 31 people.
“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,” Mr. Gidley said. “We would never dream of blaming [Democratic Sen.] Elizabeth Warren for the shooter [in Dayton] who supports Elizabeth Warren. We would never dream of blaming [Rep. Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez for someone who perpetrated a terrorist attack on a [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] facility because he used the same rhetoric she uses about ‘concentration camps.’ We would also never blame Barack Obama for the police shootings in Dallas [in 2016]. We wouldn’t blame [Sen.] Bernie Sanders for the shooting of [House Minority Whip] Steve Scalise or other Republicans. And quite frankly, it’s ridiculous to make those connections in some way.”
The gunman who shot Mr. Scalise and other Republicans at a baseball practice field in 2017 had been a campaign volunteer for Mr. Sanders in 2016.
Mr. Gidley said “this is a very, very serious moment in our country’s history.”
“This president recognizes the gravity of this moment,” Mr. Gidley said.
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said she’ll tell Mr. Trump “how unhelpful he’s been” on gun violence when she meets with him Wednesday in the city recovering from the shooting that killed nine people.
“I’m disappointed with his remarks,” she said of Mr. Trump’s address to the nation Monday. “I mean, I think they fell really short. He mentioned, like, gun issues one time. I think, watching the president over the past few years on the issue of guns, I don’t know if he knows what he believes, frankly.”
Mr. Trump has directed the FBI to give priority to domestic terrorism cases, Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday, vowing “justice will be swift and certain” in the El Paso case.
Mr. Pence said the orders from Mr. Trump to the FBI are to use “all legal means available to disrupt hate crimes and to prevent domestic terrorism before it occurs.”
Speaking to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian religious freedom advocacy group, Mr. Pence echoed the president’s comments a day earlier calling for the country to condemn white supremacy, which appears to have been a motive in the Texas massacre.
“As the president also said, now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside,” Mr. Pence said. “Now is the time to overcome evil with good.”
Ms. Whaley said she told Mr. Trump in a phone call Sunday night that the Dayton gunman’s use of a high-capacity bullet magazine was “problematic.” Police fatally shot the gunman, ending his rampage after about 30 seconds, but he managed to fire more than 40 rounds before he was killed.
Mr. Trump on Monday called for tougher laws to prevent people with mental illness from obtaining guns, and he denounced white supremacy. Police say the gunman in El Paso posted online a white supremacist, anti-immigrant screed before the shooting.
Ms. Whaley confirmed that some Dayton residents are planning to protest Mr. Trump’s visit, to object to what they view as his racist rhetoric.
“He’s made this bed, he’s got to lie in it,” the mayor said. “His rhetoric has been painful for many in our community. I think the people should stand up and say they’re not happy if they’re not happy that he’s coming.”
Mr. Gidley said the president wants Americans to know “he shares their sadness, but he also shares in this anger.”
Asked if she thinks the president’s visit will help the community, the mayor said, “Everyone has it in their power to be a force to bring people together, and everybody has it in their power to be a force to bring people apart. That’s up to the president of the United States.”
Asked if the president is visiting Dayton too soon after the shootings, the mayor said, “He’s the president of the United States. He does his calendar, I do mine.”
Rep. Veronica Escobar, Texas Democrat, is snubbing an invitation to accompany Mr. Trump’s visit to El Paso. She said Tuesday she asked the White House to speak with the president by phone ahead of his trip, but was told he was “too busy.”
“I have publicly said he has a responsibility to acknowledge the power of his words, apologize for them, and take them back because they are still hanging over us,” she tweeted. “I declined the invitation because I refuse to be an accessory to his visit. I refuse to join without a dialogue about the pain his racist and hateful words & actions have caused our community and country.”