Reporters were not allowed to follow President Donald Trump on Wednesday as he toured an El Paso hospital where victims of Saturday’s mass shooting were treated. Prior to his visit, he had given a speech urging national unity in the face of the back-to-back shootings that claimed 31 lives in Texas and Ohio.
But a local news station managed to obtain video of the El Paso visit that shows him offering praise to hospital staff before turning the subject to himself and those who criticize him.
A 21-year-old man suspected of being a white nationalist had opened fire inside a local Walmart with a military-style weapon over the weekend, killing 22 and injuring dozens more.
The president used some of his time at the hospital to boast about the size of the crowd he attracted at a rally he held in the city in February and to attack a Democratic opponent, 2020 presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who is from El Paso.
The nearly two-minute video starts as Trump enters a room at University Medical Center of El Paso that is apparently full of health care professionals. All eight shooting survivors still receiving treatment there declined a visit from the president, The Washington Post reported.
“What is this over here?” Trump began in the video.
“So I don’t know if you know it, because you’ve been pretty busy lately, right? But they’re talking about you all over the world. The job you’ve done is incredible, and they’re talking about you all over the world,” Trump told the group before emphasizing the news coverage once more.
“I was here three months ago, we made a speech,” the president continued, asking his listeners for the name of the arena where he’d held a campaign-style rally that whipped up anti-immigrant fervor. (It was the El Paso County Coliseum.)
“That place was packed,” Trump said.
When one man said he had been in the front row, the president shook his hand. The man showed off his socks, which were emblazoned “TRUMP.”
“That was some crowd. And we had twice the number outside,” Trump recalled. (Around 6,000 people stood outside the venue to watch on a screen.) “And then you had this crazy Beto. Beto had, like, 400 people in a parking lot. They said his crowd was wonderful.”
The former congressman indeed held a protest a few blocks away from Trump’s rally, but a Bloomberg reporter said El Paso police estimated that O’Rourke’s demonstration attracted around 10,000 people, and the Texas Tribune reported about 7,000.
Trump’s campaign still owes the city of El Paso nearly $570,000 for his rally, mainly in security costs.
On Thursday, O’Rourke responded to the president’s attack by saying the city “is focused on healing.”
“Not hatred. Not racism. Certainly not crowd sizes,” he wrote on Twitter. “Our community — and our country — will not be defined by [Donald Trump’s] smallness. We will be defined by the love, compassion, and strength of El Paso.”
The president’s Wednesday visits to Texas and Dayton, Ohio ― where a shooter claimed nine lives early Sunday ― drew crowds of protesters frustrated with the president’s history of divisive rhetoric and his reluctance to really push for significant gun control legislation.
Trump has expressed general support for “strong background checks.” But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has so far failed to call a vote on legislation, passed by the House in February, that would expand the circumstances in which gun sellers must conduct background checks on customers.
The story has been updated with Beto O’Rourke’s response to Trump.