O’Rourke hit back at Trump, tweeting that “22 people in my hometown are dead after an act of terror inspired by your racism.”
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump defended his anti-immigration rhetoric, saying it was uniting the country, hours after slamming presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, a native of El Paso, Texas, where nearly a dozen people were killed in last weekend’s mass shooing.
“It brings people together,” Trump said of his language. “Our country is doing incredibly well.”
He continued to call illegal immigration a “terrible thing for our country” while saying he has toned down his rhetoric.
Shortly before Trump left the White House to meet with first responders and shooting victims in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, he tweeted that O’Rourke the used a “phony name to indicate Hispanic heritage” and told him to “be quiet!”
The Democratic presidential candidate, whose full name is Robert Francis O’Rourke and has long been called by the childhood nickname of “Beto,” responded in a tweet saying “22 people in my hometown are dead after an act of terror inspired by your racism.”
Trump was expected to draw a chilly reception in both cities. While the president will seek to play consoler-in-chief, his visit has drawn increasing criticism from elected officials there over his inaction on gun regulations and his divisive stance towards immigrants. Residents in both cities have planned protests.
Outside the Dayton hospital that the president was expected to visit, protestors inflated a large balloon of Trump as a baby, with signs reading “you are why” and “words have consequences.” Another group of protestors gathered near the site of the shooting, chanting “do something.”
“His rhetoric has been painful for many in our community, and I think people should stand up and say they are not happy if they are not happy he’s coming,” Dayton mayor Nan Whaley told reporters.
Trump defended himself before leaving the White House, telling reporters criticism of him was politically motivated. He placed the blame for the scourge of mass shootings that have marked his presidency on mental illness and a culture of violence.
“These are people who at looking for political gain, and as much as possible I try to stay out of that,” Trump told reporters.
Trump said that he supports stronger background checks and limits on allowing people with mental illness to have access to guns. He said Wednesday that he believes Congress will be able to reach a deal on gun control legislation, but he doesn’t expect that to include limits on assault-style weapons.
“I have had many talks over the last few days and I think we are going to come up with something that’s gong to be really really good,” Trump said.
But the president’s critics have said his actions have contributed to the problem and stoked violence against minorities. Just before the first attack in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday morning, the suspect posted a diatribe against immigrants in Texas, and spoke of preserving European identity in America.
“We have a president right now who traffics in this hatred, who incites this violence, who calls Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, calls asylum seekers animals and an infestation,” O’Rourke said Sunday at a vigil for the victims.
Trump, meanwhile, sought to link the Dayton shooter to Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., saying the shooting had nothing to do with him. Police have not yet released a motive for the Dayton shooter, and there has as yet been no indication that it was a politically motivated attack.
On his Twitter account, the Dayton shooter posted on a range of topics, including anti-fascist ideology. He also referenced Sanders and Warren in a single tweet, though it was not clear whether it was a statement of support.