DAYTON, Ohio — Protesters chided President Donald Trump on his visit to a Dayton hospital Wednesday as he met with survivors of last weekend’s mass shootings and praised doctors, nurses and first responders.
While 200 demonstrators gathered outside, the smiling president and first lady Melania Trump posed for photos inside Miami Valley Hospital, where 17 victims of last weekend’s mass shootings were treated.
Outside, protesters blamed Trump's incendiary rhetoric for inflaming political and racial tensions in the country and demanded action on gun control. Inside, Trump was warmly greeted by patients and hospital staff. The White House tweeted photos; no media photographers were allowed.
The people I met today in Dayton are the finest anywhere! pic.twitter.com/sBxKZWExcR
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 7, 2019
President @realDonaldTrump with the incredible medical staff at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio today. Some extremely powerful moments throughout the entire visit, with so much enthusiasm and love, contrary to what the Trump Hating Dems would ever share or say. pic.twitter.com/Wpvf2zPDRd
— Dan Scavino Jr.🇺🇸 (@Scavino45) August 7, 2019
A Miami Valley official said no political agendas were discussed at the hospital, but a political firestorm erupted later as Trump and the first lady flew to their next stop in El Paso, Texas, where there was another mass shooting Saturday.
The president blasted Sen. Sherrod Brown and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley in a tweet, saying the two Democrats misrepresented their meeting with Trump when they gave a news conference after Trump's Dayton visit.
Reporters traveling with the president were kept out of view inside the hospital, but White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said the couple met with hospital staff and first responders and spent time with wounded survivors and their families.
Trump told them he was “with them,” Grisham said. “Everybody received him very warmly. Everybody was very, very excited to see him."
After the visit, a hospital spokesperson said spending time with the president and first lady meant a lot to the three patients from the mass shooting still being treated there, and that it helped everyone touched by the tragedy continue to heal.
Outside the hospital, protesters hoped to send a message to the president by calling for action. Some said Trump was not welcome in their city. There were Trump supporters, as well.
— Josh Bazan (@JoshBazan) August 7, 2019
Emotions are still raw in the aftermath of the early Sunday morning shooting rampage. Police said the gunman, 24-year-old Connor Betts of the Dayton suburb of Bellbrook, killed nine people - including his 22-year-old sister Megan Betts - and wounded 14 in the city’s popular Oregon entertainment district.
Anger and pain were on display Wednesday as protesters chanted “Ban those guns” and “Do something!” during Trump’s visit.
WCPO's Josh Bazan got reaction from protesters and Trump supporters alike.
Paula Willis of Dayton: “We don’t welcome him. We do not welcome his hate speech.”
Eric Walker of Dayton: “He’s not welcome here. Because you’re one of the causes of it.”
Steve Bujenovic of Yellow Springs, Ohio: “The bottom line is we need to find a way to stop these killings ... I think people are just disgusted with how people can get firearms and hundred round magazines and shoot the place up.”
Walker said he wants more programs to treat mental health issues.
“To combat this gun violence, mental health issues, psychological health issue, as well as seeing the early warning signs and doing something about it then and not just waiting for another situation like this to happen,” Walker said.
A handful of Trump supporters applauded the president for visiting the survivors.
John Mercs of Kettering, Ohio: “I’m here in support of his arrival and his caring to come see the victims and talk to the police officials and whatnot.”
Roberta Longfellow of Dayton, who was demonstrating against Trump, said she and others are "very sad and we’re committed to trying to do something to prevent this from happening again.”
Walker said Dayton residents would find strength from each other.
“One thing Dayton is is Dayton is strong. Dayton knows how to bounce back and build up each other and really know how to survive," Walker said.
Trump met more protests in El Paso, where another shooter killed at least 22 people over the weekend. As the presidential motorcade rolled up to a 911 center, it passed a sign that said, “Racist go home.”
Critics contend Trump’s own words have contributed to a combustible climate that has spawned violence. However, Trump rejected that assertion as he left the White House on Wednesday morning, strongly criticizing those who say he bears some responsibility for the nation’s divisions.
“My critics are political people,” Trump said, suggesting Betts, the Dayton killer, was supportive of Democrats.
“Had nothing to do with President Trump,” Trump said. “So these are people that are looking for political gain.”
He also defended his rhetoric on issues including immigration, claiming instead that he “brings people together. Our country is doing incredibly well.”
Some 85% of U.S. adults believe the tone and nature of political debate has become more negative, with a majority saying Trump has changed things for the worse, according to recent Pew Research Center polling.
And more than three quarters, 78%, say that elected officials who use heated or aggressive language to talk about certain people or groups make violence against those people more likely.