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Trump Visits El Paso In Aftermath Of Shooting That Left 22 Dead


Today President Trump visited both cities where mass shooters attacked over the weekend. In Dayton, Ohio, he met with first responders, injured victims and families of the nine people killed in Sunday's nightclub district attack. He then flew to El Paso, Texas, where 22 people were killed at a Walmart by a man apparently targeting Mexicans and Hispanics. NPR's Martin Kaste is there in El Paso and joins us again now.

And, Martin, what was on the president's agenda there in Texas?

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Well, the main focus in both these places was hospital visits. He met behind closed doors with recovering victims and medical staff. And here in El Paso, he also met with the police chief and first responders. And he spoke briefly to the traveling media. He said he thought Republican and Democrats in Washington might get - could get something done, presumably, to prevent shootings like this in the future. Then he criticized politicians back in Ohio, saying he didn't think that today should be a day for politicking, even though he'd just criticized them via Twitter from Air Force One.

SHAPIRO: There has been a lot of debate over whether the president should have gone to El Paso. Many people believe his rhetoric about an immigrant invasion, as he puts it, inspired this attack. So how was he greeted? What kind of welcome did he have?

KASTE: Well, certainly, elected officials here in El Paso have not been thrilled about this visit. The mayor, Dee Margo, was kind of deadpan on Monday when he talked to us about the coming presidential visit. He called it a formal duty as a mayor that he had to do. The Democrats here have outright said Trump was not welcome. The congresswoman from this area, Veronica Escobar, said that as did the former congressman from El Paso, Beto O'Rourke, who is, of course, running for president. And there were protesters. They gathered in a park just a few blocks away from the hospital that the president visited. The organizers of the rally said it was sort of about community resilience, but, really, it was anti-Trump. I mean, lots of people there holding signs calling the president racist, saying he has blood on his hands. Carmen Sanchez (ph) is a retired nurse who brought a sign that said, please respect our pain. Leave.

CARMEN SANCHEZ: He called us Hispanics rapists, gangsters, criminals and told the American people and the whole world that we are invading this country. He put a target on us.

SHAPIRO: And yet President Trump held a boisterous rally in El Paso back in February, so he, obviously, has some support there as well.

KASTE: Oh, absolutely. Even some Mexican Americans here say they don't exactly - necessarily accept this idea that he's a racist because he's taking a hard line on illegal immigration and migrants. Earlier today, I talked to the local Republican Party - president of the local party here, Bob Peña. He accused Beto O'Rourke and other Democrats of exploiting these deaths for political gain. And he says this visit is just kind of a no-win situation for the president.

BOB PEÑA: If he had not come, you would have had people saying, oh, my gosh. He's ignoring it. He's hiding from it. He's damned if he does and he's damned if he doesn't.

KASTE: And Peña is a Mexican American. And he thinks that the president's enemies have been purposely blurring the difference between legal and illegal immigration to cast the president in bad light. But he's glad that Trump has focused attention on the migrant crisis on the border.

PEÑA: He had the foresight three years ago to bring it to our attention - everybody's attention. We've been talking about it for years here in El Paso. That's why we're saying, thank God, he's doing it.

SHAPIRO: So, obviously, strong differences of opinion there in El Paso.

KASTE: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: How is the city generally reacting today? What's the mood like there?

KASTE: Well, there have been a few flare-ups or scuffles. I actually saw a scuffle between a small number of Trump supporters and anti-gun protesters a couple of nights ago. And there've been some tensions at the informal memorial that's been set up near the site of the shooting at the Walmart. But generally speaking, I'd say the mood in the city is one more about mourning than political anger. It's definitely a somber place here not - it's not about politics for most people.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Martin Kaste in El Paso, Texas.

Thank you.

KASTE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.