After pair of mass shootings, Trump remains out of sight

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. (AP) — As the nation reeled from two mass shootings in less than a day, President Donald Trump spent the first hours after the tragedies out of sight at his New Jersey golf course, sending out tweets of support awkwardly mixed in with those promoting a celebrity fight and attacking his political foes.

Americans did not glimpse the president in the immediate aftermath of a shooting in El Paso, Texas, that killed at least 20 people and, hours later, one in Dayton, Ohio, that claimed at least nine lives. Not until Trump and the first lady prepared to fly back to Washington in the late afternoon Sunday did he appear before cameras.

"Hate has no place in our country, and we're going to take care of it," Trump declared before boarding Air Force One.

While connecting "hate" and mental illness to the shootings, Trump made no direct mention of gun laws, a factor brought up by Democratic officials and those seeking their party's nomination to challenge Trump's reelection next year.

As he had in tweets, Trump offered condolences to victims' families and thanked law enforcement for their efforts. He tried to assure Americans he was dealing with the problem and defended his administration in light of criticism following the latest in a string of mass shootings.

"A lot of things are in the works. We have done much more than most administrations. We have done actually a lot. But perhaps more needs to be done," he said.

Never seemingly comfortable consoling a nation in grief, Trump will be carefully watched for his response to the attacks, again inviting comparison to his predecessors who have tried to heal the country in moments of national trauma.

Investigators focused on whether the El Paso attack was a hate crime after the emergence of a racist, anti-immigrant screed that was posted online shortly beforehand. Detectives sought to determine if it was written by the man who was arrested.

In recent weeks, the president has issued racist tweets about four women of color who serve in Congress, and in rallies has spoken of an "invasion" at the southern border. His reelection strategy so far has placed racial animus at the forefront in an effort that his aides say is designed to activate his base of conservative voters, an approach not seen by an American president in the modern era.

Trump has also been widely criticized for offering a false equivalency when discussing racial violence, notably when he said there were "good people on both sides" after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that resulted in the death of an anti-racism demonstrator.

The shootings will likely complicate that strategy, and Democrats who are campaigning to deny Trump a second term were quick to lay blame at the president's feet.

"You reap what you sow, and he is sowing seeds of hate in this country. This harvest of hate violence we're seeing right now lies at his feet," Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey said on NBC's "Meet the Press." ''He is responsible."

White House aides said the president has been receiving updates about both shootings.

"The FBI, local and state law enforcement are working together in El Paso and in Dayton, Ohio," Trump tweeted Sunday morning. "God bless the people of El Paso Texas. God bless the people of Dayton, Ohio."

His first tweet after the El Paso shooting on Saturday hit similar notes, with Trump calling it "terrible" and promising the full support of the federal government. But just 14 minutes later, he tweeted again, a discordant post wishing UFC fighter Colby Covington, a Trump supporter, good luck in his fight that evening. That was soon followed up with a pair of retweets of African American supporters offering testimonials to Trump's policies helping black voters, though the president polls very poorly with blacks.

Trump's two elder sons attended the UFC fight, while social media photos show that Trump stopped by a wedding at his Bedminster club on Saturday night.

12 PHOTOS
9 killed in Ohio in second mass shooting within 24 hours
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9 killed in Ohio in second mass shooting within 24 hours
Authorities work the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. Several people in Ohio have been killed in the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than 24 hours, and the suspected shooter is also deceased, police said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Shoes are piled outside the scene of a mass shooting including Ned Peppers bar, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. Several people in Ohio have been killed in the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than 24 hours, and the suspected shooter is also deceased, police said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Authorities work the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. A several people in Ohio have been killed in the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than 24 hours, and the suspected shooter is also deceased, police said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Authorities work at the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. Several people in Ohio have been killed in the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than 24 hours, and the suspected shooter is also deceased, police said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Authorities work at the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. Several people in Ohio have been killed in the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than 24 hours, and the suspected shooter is also deceased, police said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Bodies are removed from at the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. Several people in Ohio have been killed in the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than 24 hours, and the suspected shooter is also deceased, police said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Autoridades trabajando en el lugar de un tiroteo masivo, el domingo 4 de agosto de 2019 en Dayton, Ohio. (AP Foto/John Minchillo)
Bodies are removed from at the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. Several people in Ohio have been killed in the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than 24 hours, and the suspected shooter is also deceased, police said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Witnesses comfort one another at the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. Several people in Ohio have been killed in the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than 24 hours, and the suspected shooter is also deceased, police said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley speaks during a news conference regarding a mass shooting earlier in the morning, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. At least nine people in Ohio have been killed in the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than 24 hours, and the suspected shooter is also deceased, police said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Bodies are removed from at the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. Several people in Ohio have been killed in the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than 24 hours, and the suspected shooter is also deceased, police said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Shoes are piled outside the scene of a mass shooting including Ned Peppers bar, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. Several people in Ohio have been killed in the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than 24 hours, and the suspected shooter is also deceased, police said. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
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The motive for the Dayton shooting, which happened in a popular nightlife district, was not immediately known. But Democrats pointed to the El Paso attack and blamed Trump for his incendiary rhetoric about immigrants that they say fosters an atmosphere of hate and violence.

Federal officials said they were treating the El Paso attack as a domestic terrorism case.

Trump's language about immigrants, and his hardline policies, loomed over the El Paso shooting.

He has described groups of immigrants as "infestations," declared in his campaign kickoff that many of those coming from Mexico were "rapists," deemed a caravan of Hispanic migrants as invaders and wondered why the United States accepted so many immigrants from "s---hole countries" like Haiti, El Salvador and African nations. Critics also point to his campaign proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, his suggestion that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and his administration's efforts to curtail asylum and separate immigrant children from their parents at the border.

The president has also repeatedly been denounced for being slow to criticize acts of violence carried out by white nationalists, or deem them acts of domestic terrorism, most notably when he declared there were good people on "both sides" of the 2017 deadly clash in Charlottesville. The number of hate groups has surged to record highs under Trump's presidency, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

"He is encouraging this. He doesn't just tolerate it; he encourages it. Folks are responding to this. It doesn't just offend us, it encourages the kind of violence that we're seeing, including in my home town of El Paso yesterday," former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, a 2020 Democratic contender, said on CNN's "State of the Union." ''He is an open, avowed racist and is encouraging more racism in this country. And this is incredibly dangerous for the United States of America right now."

Other Democratic candidates also slammed Trump's lack of response.

"We must come together to reject this dangerous and growing culture of bigotry espoused by Trump and his allies," tweeted Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. "Instead of wasting money putting children in cages, we must seriously address the scourge of violent bigotry and domestic terrorism."

31 PHOTOS
El Paso shooting leaves 20 dead, more than two dozen injured
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El Paso shooting leaves 20 dead, more than two dozen injured
Law enforcement from different agencies work the scene of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Multiple people were killed and one person was in custody after a shooter went on a rampage at a shopping mall, police in the Texas border town of El Paso said. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
Law enforcement work the scene of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Multiple people were killed and one person was in custody after a shooter went on a rampage at a shopping mall, police in the Texas border town of El Paso said. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
Police tape strung across an intersection behind the scene of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Multiple people were killed and one person was in custody after a shooter went on a rampage at a shopping mall, police in the Texas border town of El Paso said. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
An El Paso police officer talks to a store employee following a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Multiple people were killed and one person was in custody after a shooter went on a rampage at a shopping mall, police in the Texas border town of El Paso said. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
Law enforcement officers make their way along a walkway to the scene of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Several people were killed in the shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
People walk out of an elementary school after family members were asked to reunite following a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Multiple people were killed and one person was in custody after a shooter went on a rampage at a shopping mall, police in the Texas border town of El Paso said. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
An El Paso police officer checks vehicles along a roadway near the scene of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Several people were killed in the shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
Ambulances stage in the parking near the scene of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Several people were killed in the shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers stage along a street near the scene of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Several people were killed in the shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers gather near the scene of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Multiple people were killed and one person was in custody after a shooter went on a rampage at a shopping mall, police in the Texas border town of El Paso said. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
People walk into an elementary school to look for loved ones near the site of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Several people were killed in the shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
A law enforcement officer walks near the scene of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Multiple people were killed and one person was in custody after a shooter went on a rampage at a shopping mall, police in the Texas border town of El Paso said. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
Law enforcement officers arrive near the scene of a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Several people were killed in the shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town. (AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez)
A police officer stands outside a home in Allen, Texas, believed to be associated with a mass shooting at a busy shopping area in the border town of El Paso, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Jake Bleiberg)
Agentes de varias corporaciones se presentan en el lugar donde se registró un tiroteo en un centro comercial de El Paso, Texas, el sábado 3 de agosto de 2019. (AP Foto/Rudy Gutierrez)
Agentes de varias corporaciones se presentan en el lugar donde se registró un tiroteo en un centro comercial de El Paso, Texas, el sábado 3 de agosto de 2019. (AP Foto/Rudy Gutierrez)
Edie Hallberg, left, speaks with police officers outside the Walmart store as she's looking for her missing mother Angie Englisbee, 87, who was in the store during the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Multiple people were killed and one person was in custody after a shooter went on a rampage at a shopping mall, police in the Texas border town of El Paso said. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
Edie Hallberg cries while speaking to the police outside the Walmart store as she's looking for her missing mother Angie Englisbee, 87, who was in the store during the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Multiple people were killed and one person was in custody after a shooter went on a rampage at a shopping mall, police in the Texas border town of El Paso said. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
Texas state police cars block the access to the Walmart store in the aftermath of a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Multiple people were killed and one person was in custody after a shooter went on a rampage at a shopping mall, police in the Texas border town of El Paso said. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
An El Paso Police officer stands guard outside a Walmart store in the aftermath of a deadly shooting in El Paso, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
From left, Melody Stout, Hannah Payan, Aaliyah Alba, Sherie Gramlich and Laura Barrios comfort each other during a vigil for victims of the shooting Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. A young gunman opened fire in an El Paso, Texas, shopping area during the busy back-to-school season, leaving multiple people dead and more than two dozen injured. (AP Photo/John Locher)
People embrace during a vigil for victims of the shooting Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. A young gunman opened fire in an El Paso, Texas, shopping area during the busy back-to-school season, leaving multiple people dead and more than two dozen injured. (AP Photo/John Locher)
People attend a vigil for victims of the shooting Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. A young gunman opened fire in an El Paso, Texas, shopping area during the busy back-to-school season, leaving multiple people dead and more than two dozen injured. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Melody Stout and Hannah Payan comfort each other during a vigil for victims of the shooting that occurred earlier in the day at a shopping center, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
People gather in Juarez, Mexico, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in a vigil for the 3 Mexican nationals who were killed in an El Paso shopping-complex shooting. Twenty people were killed and more than two dozen injured in a shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town of El Paso, the state’s governor said. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)
People gather in Juarez, Mexico, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in a vigil for the 3 Mexican nationals who were killed in an El Paso shopping-complex shooting. Twenty people were killed and more than two dozen injured in a shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town of El Paso, the state’s governor said. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)
From left, Samuel Lerma, Arzetta Hodges and Desiree Quintanar attend a vigil for victims of the deadly shooting that occurred earlier in the day at a shopping center Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
People gather in Juarez, Mexico, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in a vigil for the 3 Mexican nationals who were killed in an El Paso shopping-complex shooting. Twenty people were killed and more than two dozen injured in a shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town of El Paso, the state’s governor said. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)
People gather in Juarez, Mexico, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in a vigil for the 3 Mexican nationals who were killed in an El Paso shopping-complex shooting. Twenty people were killed and more than two dozen injured in a shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town of El Paso, the state’s governor said. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)
A police officer stands in the doorway to a Walmart where a gunman opened fire in a shopping complex Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
A woman sits next to a sign with a message that reads: ¨No More Guns! Make Love¨, in Juarez, Mexico, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, where people are gathering for a vigil for the 3 Mexican nationals who were killed in an El Paso shopping-complex shooting. Twenty people were killed and more than two dozen injured in a shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town of El Paso, the state’s governor said. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)
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And Pete Buttigieg said Trump is "condoning and encouraging white nationalism."

"It is very clear that this kind of hate is being legitimized from on high," Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said in an interview on CNN.

Trump ordered flags to be lowered in remembrance of both shootings.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney defended the president's response, saying Trump was "a combination of saddened by this and he's angry about it." Mulvaney told ABC's "This Week" that Trump's first call was "to the attorney general to find out what we could do to prevent this type of thing from happening."

"These are sick people," he said. "And we need to figure out what we can do to make sure this doesn't happen again."

Mulvaney focused on the challenges of mental illness and largely dodged the notion of supporting widespread gun control measures, though he pointed out the administration banned bump stocks, which help turn semi-automatic weapons into even more lethal automatic ones. Trump, who has enjoyed deep support from the National Rifle Association gun lobbying group, has stayed away from most gun control measures, including after being personally lobbied by survivors of last year's school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, urged Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to call an emergency session to put a House-passed bill on universal background checks up for debate and a vote "immediately."

White House officials said there were no immediate plans for Trump to address the nation. Trump said Sunday he would be meeting with officials Monday morning to discuss the situation.

Other presidents have used the aftermath of a national tragedy to reassure citizens, including when George W. Bush visited a mosque less than a week after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to stand up for Muslims in the United States and when Obama spoke emotionally after mass shootings at the Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Connecticut, and a Charleston, South Carolina, church.

Trump has struggled to convey such empathy and support, and drew widespread criticism when he tossed paper towels like basketballs to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico. He has also, at times, seemed to welcome violence toward immigrants. At a May rally in Panama City Beach, Florida, Trump bemoaned legal protections for migrants and asked rhetorically, "How do you stop these people?"

"Shoot them!" cried one audience member.

Trump chuckled and said, "Only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement."

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