POMPANO BEACH, Fla. – President Donald Trump, as he often does while responding to natural disasters, mass shootings or unfolding crises, spent much of his time congratulating the responders instead of memorializing the victims of Wednesday’s school shooting during a visit here Friday.
Trump, in two quick visits to a hospital and sheriff’s office near the school where 17 were killed and scores were injured, praised the doctors, police officers, fire officials and others who responded quickly to the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, casting their response as heroic and record-setting.
“Incredible job and everybody is talking about it,” Trump said of the response, with dozens of officers flanked around a large circular conference room table on the fifth floor of the Broward County Sheriff Office.
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Trump said he saw victims at the hospital – he was not seen doing so – and even described one woman who suffered bullets to her lungs. That anecdote though quickly became about the officers, who responded within 20 minutes and saved her life.
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“They were in really great shape,” he said of the families.
“The job they’ve done is incredible and I want to congratulate you,” Trump said as he shook the hand of Dr. Igor Nichiporenko at the hospital.
He said he was impressed with the speed with which first responders reacted, calling it “record-setting” and “in one case 20 minutes” from the school to the hospital.
“It’s an incredible thing,” Trump said. He later said the officers deserve a raise.
He did not give an emotional or rousing commemoration to the victims – like President Barack Obama did after a mass shooting at a Charleston, South Carolina, church – nor did he seem to publicly greet any families whose children were killed in the attack. Speaking at a funeral or a large vigil was not on the agenda. There were no calls for American resolve. There were no tears.
The visits were quick. For instance, Friday night he was in the hospital for about 20 minutes, speaking to the news media for about 45 seconds. He was in the sheriff’s office a bit longer.
By 8:50 p.m, the president’s motorcade was rolling north to his palatial coastal estate called Mar-a-Lago.
The president and his aides – who have been largely silent as Cabinet officials have been accused of wrongdoing and inappropriate spending, an immigration push failed, 13 Russians were indicted for helping Trump in the election, new detailed accusations of his affairs emerged and concerns grew about security clearances – did not take questions again Friday.
Trump ignored shouted requests to weigh in on the FBI, which failed to follow up on a tip on the Florida shooter, and whether he believes gun laws should be tightened.
His critics and even some allies say he should look at changing laws after another mass shooting, and he would have likely been greeted by protesters had he visited a larger and less controlled setting, even his aides conceded. Even the New York Post, Trump’s favorite paper and a usual stalwart for conservatism, weighed in on its cover urging the president to “do something.”
On the corner across the street from the sheriff’s office stood a single protester, holding a poster board pleading with the president to “Protect Our Childrens(sic)!”
“Mr. Trump is a leader and he needs to make sure that nobody else’s kids are killed,” said Maria Vergara, 43, a mother of four who lives up the street from the sheriff’s office.
The victims and those present at a vigil who called for tougher gun-control laws did not see the president.
Instead, he followed a tried-and-true playbook for responding to crises, like he has a mass shooting in Las Vegas and a hurricane in Texas: leaning on praise of the responders – casting their response in hyperbolic terms – while making quick and choreographed stops that do not draw protesters or detractors or large crowds.
In Texas, he heaped praise on emergency workers in a Corpus Christi firehouse before visiting a local sheriff’s office, where he sat around a large conference room table – just as he did in Florida on Friday night – and praised those rescuing the victims.
In Las Vegas, he also visited a hospital and a sheriff’s office.
Aides said for days that Trump wanted to get to southern Florida while watching the news on the shooting unfold but had been blocked by the Secret Service and top advisers, who said they could not quickly orchestrate such a visit. He publicly said Friday night that others had suggested Sunday or Monday but he said no.
At the sheriff’s office, his team told the assembled media it would be quicker than one minute for a photo spray. Instead, Trump asked everyone around the table to introduce themselves and explain what they did. Many talked of their journeys into the blood-spattered school or their hunt for the suspect.
Trump thanked them all, and some of them praised the president for praising law enforcement officers and defending them.
At the end, Michael Leonard, the officer who found the gunman and handcuffed him, gave a 15-second soliloquy explaining his actions.
The president was not satisfied, so he elaborated for the officer:
“That was so modest, I would have told it much differently,” Trump said. “I would have said without me, they never would have found him.”