While President Trump was aboard Air Force One en route to El Paso, Texas, to grieve with survivors of a mass shooting there, the president and his aides blasted Ohio's Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and insisted he was treated — in the words of White House social media director Dan Scavino — like a "rock star" during a visit to mass shooting victims and hospital staff in Dayton.
Mr. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump met with survivors, victims' families, and first responders at the Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton. The president and first lady spent roughly an hour and 40 minutes inside in visits that were closed to the media. Brown and Whaley told reporters in a press conference after the visit that patients welcomed the president at the hospital. They both expressed concern over the president's past divisive rhetoric, and Brown said the GOP is "in bed" with the National Rifle Association, but neither said the president had not been received well by those he met with.
"He was received as well as you can expect by the patients," Brown said, adding, "They are hurting. He was comforting, he and Melania did the right things. It's his job in part to comfort people. I'm glad he did it."
Whaley, for her part, said the "victims and the first responders were grateful that the president of the United States came to Dayton."
Scavino, the social media director, however, said the Ohio leaders were "LYING" about the reception, and tweeted out pictures of the president smiling with hospital workers. Mr. Trump, too, soon took to Twitter while aboard Air Force One to blast Brown and insist Brown and Whaley had misrepresented the visit.
"Just left Dayton, Ohio, where I met with the Victims & families, Law Enforcement, Medical Staff & First Responders. It was a warm & wonderful visit," the president tweeted. "Tremendous enthusiasm & even Love. Then I saw failed Presidential Candidate (0%) Sherrod Brown & Mayor Whaley totally...misrepresenting what took place inside of the hospital. Their news conference after I left for El Paso was a fraud. It bore no resemblance to what took place with those incredible people that I was so lucky to meet and spend time with."
Two days earlier, from the White House Diplomatic room, the president had said it was time to put partisanship aside. "Now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside — so destructive — and find the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion, and love," the president said on Monday.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham took a softer tone aboard Air Force One, but also tweeted she was sad to see Brown and Whaley hold a "dishonest" press conference. Grisham said the president had personally invited Brown and Whaley for the entire tour, which wasn't the original plan.
"President @realDonaldTrump graciously asked Sen Brown & Mayor Whaley to join as he and the First Lady visited victims, medical staff & first responders," Grisham tweeted "It is genuinely sad to see them immediately hold such a dishonest press conference in the name of partisan politics."
Grisham also tweeted that the president told survivors at the hospital, "You had God watching. I want you to know we're with you all the way."
Protesters advocating for stricter gun control measures flocked to the streetsat Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton. But supporters with Trump flags also lined the streets nearby.
In the Brown-Whaley press conference after the hospital visit, Whaley said she thinks the president listened when she spoke with him Wednesday urging stricter gun control measures, but she isn't sure what will happen next.
"I'm not holding my breath," Whaley said of any success for gun control measures passing in Congress.
Whaley said she thinks the first responders and victims were grateful to see the president at the hospital, but she also thought it was a wise decision for him not to visit the Oregon district, where the shooting occurred, because some there felt hurt by the president's rhetoric.
Brown said the president and first lady said the "right things" during their trip to the hospital. Brown, who originally didn't intend to meet the president, urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the president to push for an assault weapons ban.
Mr. Trump, who has been criticized for the language he has used against immigrants, defended his rhetoric on Wednesday before leaving the White House, claiming it "brings people together." Politicians in Texas, including Rep. Veronica Escobar and Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke, have harshly criticized the president over his rhetoric about immigrants. But Mr. Trump slammed his critics Wednesday, and insisted his rhetoric unites people rather than divides them.
Before leaving for the day trip, Mr. Trump also said he's very concerned about white supremacists and any kind of hatred that leads to violence.
"Any group of hate, whether it's white supremacy, whether it's any other kind of supremacy whether it's Antifa, whether it's any group of hate, I am very concerned about it and I'll do something about it."
Vigils have been held for the shooting victims in both cities. But Americans in other cities around the country have also gathered to offer their support. Hundreds held vigil outside the, urging stricter gun control measures and an end to mass shootings.