President Donald Trump’s first domestic mega-moment has arrived, and his reaction to the unexpected tragedy is being closely watched as all sides seek to gauge his temperament in a moment of crisis.
Trump has so far delivered a measured response in the immediate hours after Wednesday’s shooting at a congressional GOP baseball practice that sent five people to the hospital, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.
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The president’s initial remarks — a statement saying he and Vice President Mike Pence were “deeply saddened” by the shooting and a tweet calling Scalise a “true friend and patriot” — stands in sharp contrast to how the neophyte politician has reacted in other large-scale moments since arriving on the international political stage.
Earlier this month, Trump sparked an international uproar when he touted his controversial travel ban following a terrorist attack in London and also mischaracterized the city mayor’s position reassuring the public in its aftermath. During the heat of the 2016 campaign, Hillary Clinton Trump after the Republican declared a bomb had detonated in New York before the local authorities had made that announcement.
Trump also drew criticism last June when he issued a seven-paragraph statement in response to the mass shooting at a night club in Orlando, criticizing President Barack Obama for not saying the words “radical Islam” during the shooting and urging him to “step down” from office because of the omission.
Beyond the initial White House statement and tweet on Wednesday, Trump has stayed out of the spotlight as local and federal law enforcement pieces together the shooting in Alexandria, Virginia. Law enforcement officials named the suspected shooter about four hours after the incident as James T. Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois, according to multiple media reports. Those reports identified him as a supporter of Bernie Sanders, and his apparent social media accounts included anti-Trump posts.
The White House canceled Trump’s speech at the Labor Department that was scheduled for later this afternoon, and the president is scheduled to make a statement from the Diplomatic Room at 11:30 a.m.
According to the White House, Trump has spoken to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Scalise’s wife and chief of staff and the Capitol Police chief. Pence has also spoken to Ryan, as well as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Texas GOP Rep. Joe Barton, Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake and a staff member who coaches the Republican’s baseball team.
Amid the initial presidential silence, several Trump surrogates have started making charged public statements and even ascribing a motive to the shooting.
The president’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., issued a on Twitter — “This” — in sharing a tweet by conservative commentator Harlan Hill, who wrote: “Events like today are EXACTLY why we took issue with NY elites glorifying the assassination of our President.”
Trump White House adviser Kellyanne Conway shared a post by a local South Carolina television reporter quoting South Carolina GOP Rep. Jeff Duncan, who said the shooter asked, “Is this a team of Republicans or Democrats practicing?”
“#breakingnews.” Conway .
New York GOP Rep. Chris Collins also placed blame on Democrats, saying in an interview with WBEN radio they need to “tone down” their rhetoric.
“I can only hope that Democrats tone down the rhetoric,” Collins said. “The finger-pointing, the angst, the anger directed at Donald Trump and his supporters … some people react to those things.”
Collins referenced a “die-in” protest that happened at his office several weeks ago regarding Obamacare.
“Let’s hope we can disagree on a more polite, conversational basis and not do things like they did at my office a couple weeks ago. It’s gone too far,” Collins said.
Several former Democratic White House aides in the hours after the shooting said they hoped Trump would avoid politics in his first major domestic shooting incident.
“The tone and the words coming out of the White House matter the most,” said a former senior Obama White House official. “There may be a lot of breathless speculation in the press and an instinct to react strongly, but the sweet spot is typically one of respect, vigilance, and considered thoughtfulness.”
“In these moments the public looks to the president to bring some rationality to what we all have difficulty rationalizing,” added a former Clinton White House aide. “It’s a time to be the healer-in-chief, not the tweeter-in-chief.”