El Paso victims refuse to meet with Trump after he turns Dayton visit into a campaign stop

All 8 victims still hospitalized after the mass shooting in El Paso rejected a meeting with President Trump

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published August 8, 2019 3:57PM (EDT)

President Donald Trump visited El Paso and Dayton after two mass shootings killed 31 people and injured dozens of others last weekend but none of the eight El Paso victims still being treated at University Medical Center agreed to meet him, The Washington Post reports. 

“This is a very sensitive time in their lives. Some of them said they didn’t want to meet with the president, some of them didn’t want any visitors,” UMC spokesman Ryan Mielke told The Post. The patients also refused to meet with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who also visited on Wednesday. Two victims that had already been discharged were the only ones who agreed to meet with the president. 

Despite their reluctance to meet with Trump and Cruz, The Post reported that numerous hospitalized victims had met with city and county officials, as well as Democratic Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar and Illinois Rep. Chuy Garcia. 

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said that Trump and first lady Melania Trump met with “victims of the tragedy while at the hospital” in Dayton and were “received very warmly by not just victims and their families, but by the many members of medical staff who lined the hallways to meet them. It was a moving visit for all involved.”

The White House barred journalists from observing the visit, however. Grisham told reporters en route to the Dayton visit that “this was about the victims and their families, and thanking medical staff” and not “about a photo-op for the President and the First Lady.”

Immediately after leaving Dayton, while still en route to El Paso, the White House released numerous photos and video of Trump’s visit, showing the president smiling and throwing up a thumbs up for numerous photo-ops with mostly white hospital workers. Such optics are notable because six of the nine deceased victims were black people and Dayton is about 40% black.

The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman told CNN that White House aides believe his visit was a “debacle” after Trump, in between and after the visits, raged on Twitter at Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, both Democrats, even though both were very complimentary about his visit.

Brown said at a news conference that Trump was “received well by the patients,” was “comforting” and “did the right things.” Whaley said the victims were “grateful” to see Trump and that he was “treated well by the victims, for sure.”

Brown did mention that Trump’s rhetoric, which was echoed in the El Paso shooter’s “manifesto,” was “racist” and Whaley called his rhetoric “divisive,” but neither disparaged his visit.

Trump bizarrely lashed out at both Democrats on Twitter immediately after leaving Dayton, accusing them of misrepresenting his visit. Trump claimed that he saw “failed Presidential candidate” Brown (who has never run for president) and Whaley “totally misrepresenting what took place inside the hospital.”

“Their news conference after I left for El Paso was a fraud,” he wrote. “It bore no resemblance to what took place with those incredible people.”

White House social media chief Dan Scavino similarly accused Brown and Whaley of “LYING & completely mischaracterizing what took place," calling them "disgraceful politicians, doing nothing but politicizing a mass shooting, at every turn they can."

Whaley responded to the tweets by saying she was “really confused.”

"We said he was treated really well. I don't know what you could talk about misrepresenting, so. Oh well, you know. He lives in his world of Twitter," Whaley told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Though Brown was largely complimentary at the press conference, he slammed Trump for his post-visit attack.

"I've said before that Donald Trump is a bully and bullies are cowards," he told CNN. "I don't care what he says about me. But the people of Dayton deserve a president more focused on protecting them from gun violence than protecting his own ego."

Trump’s aides, too, were not happy with how the president reacted, Haberman told CNN.

“They wanted him to go in and behave differently,” she said. “The goal was for him to go in and get out while making as little news as possible.”

Whaley told reporters that she wished Trump had focused more on the victims of gun violence on his visit to meet victims of gun violence.

"He is a bully and coward and it's fine that he wants to bully me and Senator Brown. We're okay,” she said. “We can take it, but the citizens of Dayton deserve action." 

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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