President Trump is bringing a message aimed at national unity and healing to the sites of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. But the words he offers for a divided America will be complicated by his own incendiary, anti-immigrant rhetoric that mirrors language linked to one of the shooters.
It is a highly unusual predicament for an American president to at once try to console a community and a nation at the same time he is being criticized as contributing to a combustible climate that can spawn violence.
White House officials said Trump’s visits Wednesday to Texas and Ohio, where 31 people were killed and dozens wounded, would be similar to those he’s paid to grieving communities including Parkland, Florida, and Las Vegas, with the president and first lady saluting first responders and spending time with mourning families and survivors.
“What he wants to do is go to these communities and grieve with them, pray with them, offer condolences,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Tuesday. He said Trump also wants “to have a conversation” about ways to head off future deadly episodes.
“We can do something impactful to prevent this from ever happening again, if we come together,” the spokesman said.
That’s a tough assignment for a president who thrives on division and whose aides say he views discord and unease about cultural, economic and demographic changes as key to his reelection.
At the same time, prominent Democrats have been casting blame on Trump more often than calling for national unity in the aftermath of the shootings, a measure of the profound polarization in the country.
Trump, who often seems most comfortable on rally stages with deeply partisan crowds, has not excelled at projecting empathy, mixing what can sound like perfunctory expressions of grief with awkward offhand remarks. While he has offered hugs to tornado victims and spent time at the bedsides of shooting victims, he has yet to project the kind of emotion and vulnerability of his recent predecessors.
Barack Obama grew visibly shaken as he addressed the nation in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre and teared up while delivering a 2016 speech on new gun control efforts. George W. Bush helped bring the country together following the Sept, 11 attacks, notably standing atop the smoking rubble of the World Trade Center, his arm draped over the shoulder of a firefighter, as he shouted through a bullhorn. Bill Clinton helped reassure the nation after the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City and the mass school shooting at Columbine High School.
Trump, too, has been able to summon soothing words. But then he often quickly lapses into divisive tweets and statements – just recently painting immigrants as “invaders,” suggesting four Democratic congresswoman of color should go back to their home countries, though all are citizens, and describing majority-black Baltimore as a rat-infested hell-hole.
In the Texas border city of El Paso, some residents and local Democratic lawmakers said Trump was not welcome and urged him to stay away.
“This president, who helped create the hatred that made Saturday’s tragedy possible, should not come to El Paso,” tweeted Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who served the area for three terms as a congressman. “We do not need more division. We need to heal. He has no place here.”
In Dayton, Mayor Nan Whaley said she would be meeting with Trump on Wednesday, but she told reporters she was disappointed with his scripted remarks Monday responding to the shootings. His speech included a denunciation of “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” and a declaration that “hate has no place in America.” But he made no mention of new efforts to limit sales of certain guns or the anti-immigration rhetoric found in an online screed posted just before the El Paso attack.
The hateful manifesto’s author – police believe it was the shooter but investigation continues – insisted the opinions “predate Trump and his campaign for president.” But the words echoed some of the views Trump has expressed on immigration, including claiming that Democrats “intend to use open borders, free HealthCare for illegals, citizenship and more to enact a political coup by importing and then legalizing millions of new voters.”
Dayton Mayor Whaley said simply, “Everyone has it in their power to be a force to bring people together, and everybody has it in their power to be a force to bring people apart – that’s up to the president of the United States.”
Democrats vying to challenge Trump in the 2020 election have been nearly unanimous in excoriating him for rhetoric they warned has nurtured the racist attitudes of the El Paso shooter as they sought to project leadership during a fraught moment for a bruised nation.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker was delivering a speech on gun violence and white nationalism Wednesday at the Charleston, South Carolina, church where nine black parishioners were killed in 2015. Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, released a detailed plan for gun control and deterrence.
Gidley and other White House officials denounced suggestions that Trump’s rhetoric was in any way responsible for the shooting. They called it “dangerous,” ‘pathetic,” ‘disgusting.”
“It’s not the politician’s fault when somebody acts out their evil intention,” he said, pointing to other shooters who have expressed political preferences for Democratic politicians including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders.
“It is shameful that Democrats are unable to prevent themselves from politicizing a moment of national grief,” added Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh.
Trump himself, quoting one of the hosts of his favorite “Fox & Friends” show, tweeted: “Did George Bush ever condemn President Obama after Sandy Hook. President Obama had 32 mass shootings during his reign. Not many people said Obama is out of control. Mass shootings were happening before the president even thought about running for Pres.”
Warren spokeswoman Kristen Orthman said leaders have an obligation to speak out.
“Let’s be clear,” she said in a statement. “There is a direct line between the president’s rhetoric and the stated motivations of the El Paso shooter.”
Recent Pew Research Center polling found 85% of U.S. adults believe the tone and nature of political debate in the country has become more negative, with a majority saying Trump has changed things for the worse. And more than three quarters – 78% – say that elected officials who use heated or aggressive language to talk about certain people or groups make violence against those people more likely.
Ayaz Gul in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.
As Kashmir remained locked down for a second straight day, India’s parliament approved scrapping the special status that gave Kashmir significant autonomy, and passed a bill to split the state.
Plunged in a communications blackout and a virtual shutdown, it has been difficult to ascertain the reaction local residents to the radical steps.
Curfew-like restrictions continued on Tuesday. Troops patrolled deserted streets with barbed wire barricades in the capital, Srinagar, while the internet, mobile and landlines remained suspended to stem protests in the region wracked by a violent separatist struggle for three decades.
The measures passed by an overwhelming majority in the lower house of parliament are being seen as a message that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will take a tough stance on Kashmir and with rival Pakistan, with whom India has a long-running dispute over control of the Himalayan region.
After the vote, Modi called it a “momentous occasion in our parliamentary democracy.” In a tweet he said, “Together we are, together we shall rise, and together we will fulfill the dreams of 130 crore Indians!”
The steps fulfill a long-standing pledge of his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to end the constitutional provision that allowed Kashmir to have its own constitution and draft its own laws on all matters except foreign affairs, defense and communications.
Kashmir also will be split into two federally administered territories, effectively tightening New Delhi’s grip on the region. One will comprise of the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley and Hindu-majority Jammu, and the second of Buddhist-majority Ladakh. All Indian laws will now apply in Kashmir.
Barring the main opposition Congress Party and a handful of regional parties, the BJP has won wide support for overturning Kashmir’s autonomous status.
Defending the radical moves, Home Minister Amit Shah told parliament the special status granted to Kashmir was responsible for fomenting terrorism in the region, and revoking it would break down the wall created with the rest of India. He said it did not mean that India had given up its claim to Pakistani Kashmir.
The most significant difference now is that with Kashmir placed on par with the rest of the country, outsiders can buy land and live in the region, which was banned earlier. The government says this would open up the area to investment and spur development.
But opinion remains sharply divided on whether these steps will help New Delhi meet its goal of integrating Kashmir with the rest of the country and ending an armed rebellion, or whether it will exacerbate tensions in the region where anti-Indian sentiment runs deep.
Congress Party leader Shashi Tharoor warned that it would give a “fresh lease of life to terrorism” and would make Kashmir, where Muslim insurgents have been waging a separatist struggle, more vulnerable to militant groups like Islamic State.
Several political commentators say Kashmiris will view the steps as a ploy to take away their special “identity.”
“India will now come across as the hard Indian state instead of the soft Indian state,” said independent political analyst Neerja Chowdhury, pointing out that previous governments had always tried a “carrot and stick” policy. She says the measure could deepen alienation among Kashmiris.
In New Delhi, most newspapers carried banner headlines on what most hailed as a “bold” move, but also warned that it carried risks and said it was a politically and communally contentious step.
“India’s decision is sure to spark unrest in Kashmir, and especially in the Kashmir Valley, once the Indians end their lockdown there,” said Michael Kugelman, a Washington-based expert on South Asian affairs. He told VOA the move “could even spark a new phase of insurgency, that is if India gives insurgents enough space to operate.”
The word “historic” has reverberated in parliament during the two-day debate, but in different contexts. Ruling party benches have said they have corrected a “historic” injustice done to Kashmir, while the opposition Congress Party has slammed it as a “historic blunder.”
The move has infuriated pro-India parties in Kashmir, who call it a betrayal of trust. Three Kashmiri political leaders under detention in a government guest house have warned the step will backfire and deepen anger among Kashmiris.
The Buddhist enclave of Ladakh cheered India’s move to break it away from Jammu and Kashmir state, a change that could spur tourism and help New Delhi counter China’s influence in the contested western Himalayas.
Beijing, though, criticized the announcement, made on Monday by the Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as part of a wider policy shift that also ended Jammu and Kashmir’s right to set its own laws. In a statement on Tuesday, China said the decision was unacceptable and undermined its territorial sovereignty.
Ladakh is an arid, mountainous area of around 59,146 square kilometers (22,836 square miles), much of it uninhabitable, that only has 274,000 residents. The rest of Jammu and Kashmir is roughly 163,090 square kilometres (62,969 square miles) with a population of some 12.2 million.
China and India still claim vast swaths of each other’s territory along their 3,500 km (2,173 mile) Himalayan border.
The Asian rivals had a two-month standoff at the Doklam plateau in another part of the remote Himalayan region in 2017.
“The fact that India took this move … can be seen as one way that India is trying to counter growing Chinese influence in the region,” said Sameer Patil, a Mumbai-based fellow in international security studies at the Gateway House think-tank.
In a statement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China contests the inclusion of what it regards as its territory on the Indian side of the western section of the China-India border.
“India’s unilateral amendment to its domestic law, continues to damage China’s territorial sovereignty. This is unacceptable,” Hua said.
In response to a question about Hua’s statement, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said on Tuesday the Ladakh decision was an internal matter.
“India does not comment on the internal affairs of other countries and similarly expects other countries to do likewise,” said Kumar, without directly mentioning China.
Patil from Gateway House said monks he interviewed in Ladakh told him China-endorsed monks had been extending loans and donations to Buddhist monasteries in the area in an apparent bid to win influence.
Reuters was not able to contact any monks in Ladakh.
“Our Own Destiny”
By announcing it would turn Ladakh into its own administrative district, the Indian government fulfilled a decades-long demand from political leaders there.
Ladakh locals were tired of being hurt or ignored because of the many years of turmoil in the Kashmir Valley resulting from separatist militant activity and the Indian military’s moves to crush them.
Local politicians and analysts expect the change to bring Ladakh out of the shadow of Kashmir, which has long been a flashpoint with Pakistan. It could also help the area pocket more government funding as it seeks to build up its roads and facilities to lure tourists.
“We are very happy that we are separated from Kashmir. Now we can be the owners of our own destiny,” Tsering Samphel, a veteran politician from the Congress party in Ladakh, said on Tuesday. He added the area felt dwarfed by Jammu and Kashmir – which is a majority Muslim area – and that the regions had little in common culturally.
In Ladakh’s city of Leh on Monday, members of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party danced in the streets and distributed sweets, Reuters partner ANI reported.
Ladakh will be governed by a centrally-appointed lieutenant governor, handing New Delhi stronger oversight over the area.
However, while Ladakh will become a Union Territory, it will not have its own legislature – a sore point for some locals.
“Hopefully we will be getting that also, slowly,” said Samphel, 71, adding that local politicians would put that demand to New Delhi.
Ladakh’s economy, traditionally dependent on farming, has benefited from tourists visiting ancient monasteries and trekking up mountain peaks.
P. C. Thakur, general manager of The Zen Ladakh hotel in Leh, hopes that dissociating from Jammu and Kashmir will further attract visitors. He expects the hotel’s occupancy to jump by up to 7 percentage points from an average of around 80-85% currently.
Small-satellite launch firm Rocket Lab announced on Tuesday a plan to recover the core booster of its Electron rocket using a helicopter, a bold cost-saving concept that, if successful, would make it the second company after Elon Musk’s SpaceX to reuse an orbital-class rocket booster.
“Electron is going reusable,” Rocket Lab chief executive Peter Beck said during a presentation in Utah, showing an animation of the rocket sending a payload into a shallow orbit before speeding back through Earth’s atmosphere. “Launch frequency is the absolute key here.”
The Auckland, New Zealand-based company is one of a growing cadre of launch companies looking to slash the cost of sending shoebox-sized satellites to low Earth orbit, building smaller rockets and reinventing traditional production lines to meet a growing payload demand.
Electron, which has flown seven missions so far, can send up to 496 pounds (225 kg) into space for roughly $7 million.
Medium-class launchers such as Los Angeles-based Relativity Space can send up to 2,200 pounds (1,000 kg) into space for $10 million while Cedar Park, Texas-based firm Firefly can do it for $15 million.
Unlike SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which reignites its engines to land steadily back on Earth “propulsively” after much larger missions costing around $62 million, Rocket Lab’s Electron will deploy a series of parachutes to slow its fall through what Beck called “the wall” – the violently fast and burning hot reentry process the booster endures shooting back through Earth’s atmosphere.
A helicopter will then hook the booster’s parachute in mid-air as it descends over the ocean and tow it back to a boat for recovery, Beck said.
“The grand goal here is, if we can capture the vehicle in wonderful condition, in theory we should be able to put it back on the pad, recharge the batteries up, and go again,” Beck said.
Some launch companies, such as Boeing-Lockheed venture United Launch Alliance which flies its Atlas V rocket, are skeptical of the economic case for reusing first-stage boosters propulsively, arguing that the fuel spent landing the rocket through the dense atmosphere and back on Earth would be better used to launch heavier payloads.
Beck said propulsive recoveries like SpaceX’s Falcon 9 “don’t scale well” with Electron’s smaller build, anyway. A spokeswoman would not say how much money Rocket Lab expects to save from its foray into hardware reusability, but said “cost reductions could flow from this in time.”
Advocacy groups sued the Trump administration on Tuesday in an effort to block a rule published last month that expands the number of migrants who can be subject to a sped-up deportation process without oversight by an immigration judge.
The rule, published in the Federal Register on July 23, broadened the practice of “expedited removal” to apply to anyone arrested anywhere nationwide who entered the United States illegally and cannot prove they have lived continuously in the country for at least two years.
Previously, only migrants caught within 100 miles of a U.S. border and who had been in the country for 14 days or less were subject to the fast-track process.
Under expedited removal, migrants are not entitled to a review of their cases in front of an immigration judge or access to an attorney.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., by the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Immigration Council on behalf of three immigration rights groups, claims the government did not go through the proper procedures in issuing the rule and says it violates due process and U.S. immigration laws.
The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment on the filing.
President Donald Trump has struggled to stem an increase of mostly Central American families arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, leading to overcrowded detention facilities and a political battle over immigration that is inflaming tensions in the country.
In El Paso, Texas, last weekend a gunman killed 22 people after apparently posting an anti-immigrant manifesto online.
Nearly 300,000 of the approximately 11 million immigrants in the United States illegally could be quickly deported under the new rule, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.
“Hundreds of thousands of people living anywhere in the U.S. are at risk of being separated from their families and expelled from the country without any recourse,” Anand Balakrishnan, an attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement.
The government has said increasing rapid deportations would free up detention space and ease strains on immigration courts, which face a backlog of more than 900,000 cases.
People in rapid deportation proceedings are detained for 11.4 days on average, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. People in regular proceedings are held for 51.5 days and are released into the United States for the months or years it takes to resolve their cases.
In Angola, young people people are learning about the history of the slave trade in the classroom, as VOA’s Mayra de Lassalette and Betty Ayoub found when they traveled to the African nation. Mayra de Lassalette narrates their report.
Four hundred years ago, the first enslaved Africans landed in what is now the United States. Those first African captives came from the Portuguese colony of Angola, brought to the shores of Virginia in 1619 by an English pirate ship that had seized them from a Portuguese slave ship. Some 6 million enslaved Africans came from Angola, most of them sent to Portugal’s colonies, though some ended up in North America. VOA’s Mayra de Lassalette and Betty Ayoub traveled to Angola where they heard accounts of the fierce resistance to the slave trade. Mayra de Lassalette narrates their report.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says the main cause of escalating tensions between Japan and South Korea is a loss of trust over court rulings ordering Japanese companies to compensate South Koreans for forced labor during World War II.
Japan has imposed export controls on key materials for South Korea’s semiconductor industry and moved to downgrade the country’s trade status. It has insisted that the measures were related to national security concerns and were not in retaliation for the court rulings.
Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony until the end of the war, and insists that all compensation issues were settled under a 1965 agreement normalizing ties.
Abe, responding to a question Tuesday about the escalating tensions, urged Seoul to take appropriate actions to stop the court procedures.
This year marks the 400th anniversary since the first enslaved Africans set foot in what is now the United States. The arrival in the British colony of Virginia in August 1619 of a ship carrying Africans from Angola marked the start of more than 200 years of slavery in America. VOA’s Mayra de Lassalette and Betty Ayoub traveled to Angola to learn more about one of the origins of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its lingering impact on the region. Mayra de Lassalette narrates their report.