NEW YORK (AP) — It was a sadly familiar ritual: an American president addressing the nation at an unsettling time, decrying violence while urging citizens to set aside their differences and pray for the recovery of victims.
But this time, it was President Donald Trump who was called upon to speak words of comfort in such a troubled moment, one fraught with the overtones of gun politics and the heated rhetoric of a nation sharply divided along party lines.
Trump’s measured response to Wednesday’s shooting at a congressional baseball practice stood in stark contrast to his inflammatory reactions to some previous acts of violence. He delivered a brief address from the White House Diplomatic Room in which he denounced the shooting of a top House Republican and others as a “very, very brutal assault.” He said that “many lives would have been lost without the heroic action” of Capitol Police officers who took down the gunman.
“We may have our differences, but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country,” Trump said. “We can all agree that we are blessed to be Americans, that our children deserve to grow up in a nation of safety and peace and that we are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good.”
Republican Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana was shot in the early morning fusillade of gunfire, and several other people, including members of Scalise’s security detail, also were wounded. The gunman was killed.
On Wednesday evening, the president and first lady Melania Trump visited MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where Scalise remains in critical condition.
“The president entered the room, spoke with Scalise’s family members and sat by his bedside with Mrs. Trump,” Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, describing the scene in the intensive care unit as emotional. Scalise and his wife, Jennifer, have two children.
The president was briefed by Scalise’s medical team and also visited with Capitol Police officer Crystal Griner, who was shot in the ankle during the attack.
Back at the White House, Trump tweeted: “Rep. Steve Scalise, one of the truly great people, is in very tough shape - but he is a real fighter. Pray for Steve!”
Several prominent Republicans, including the president’s eldest son, were quick to link the gunfire to anti-Trump rhetoric from the left. But in the hours after the shooting, the president, whose pugnacious style has come to define this era of bruising partisanship, avoided any mention of the political debate surrounding the shooting.