White House prepares for emotional day in Orlando


President Obama will meet with the families of the victims and survivors of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history on Thursday during his visit to Orlando.

The president will thank the first responders who acted to save lives and take down the shooter, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday in laying out the trip.

{mosads}Forty-nine people were killed and 53 more were wounded or injured in the shooting Sunday at Pulse nightclub.

The shooter, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, was killed at the scene. He pledged allegiance to several terrorist groups during the attack on the gay club, which he had reportedly visited in the past.

The circumstances of the attack have opened wounds in the nation’s LGBT community, and Earnest said the president would take on that topic head on.

Obama will deliver remarks, Earnest said, in which he will say “that the country stands with the people of Orlando, stands with the LGBT community in Orlando, as they grieve for their loss.”

“This will be … an emotional trip,” he added. 

The visit represents another opportunity for Obama to take on the role of consoler in chief, a part he’s had to play frequently as a result of the growing number of mass shootings and other tragedies that have occurred during his presidency. 

“The president understands that he is a symbol of the country,” Earnest said. “And when he travels to a community and meets with a family that has endured a terrible tragedy, he’s offering a message of condolence and comfort on behalf of the American people. The president takes that responsibility quite seriously.”

It could add to a contrast the White House is painting against presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who in the hours after the attack launched into criticism of Obama and U.S. immigration policies. Mateen was a U.S. citizen, born in New York to Afghan immigrants.  

The timing of the trip, just four days after the killings, is notable; Obama has not generally rushed to the sites of mass shootings.

The president laid a rose at a memorial for the victims of the Paris terror attacks 13 days after they occurred last November. He was in the French capital for an international conference on climate change.

En route to his Christmas vacation in Hawaii, Obama made a stop in San Bernardino, Calif., 16 days after December’s shooting there to meet privately with
victims’ families at a local high school. 

On both occasions, he did not deliver remarks. 

Obama visited Charleston, S.C., nine days after a gunman killed nine people and wounded one at a historic African-American church. 

He met with the families of the victims and delivered a eulogy at the funeral of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a friend of the president who was killed during the massacre.

Obama was criticized for not sending a high-ranking official to take part in a unity march with other world leaders in Paris after a dozen people were killed in a shooting in that city at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015. The administration later publicly acknowledged its error.

Now, in the midst of the election to succeed him, Obama is going to Orlando quickly.

Details of Obama’s visit were in flux just 24 hours before he was set to land, an indication of the hurried nature of the trip. 

The White House announced the travel plans Monday night, the day after the shooting, and advance staffers arrived in Orlando on Tuesday morning to begin figuring out the complicated logistics of a presidential visit. 

“When the president makes a trip to another American city, we’ve got a week or so to plan it,” Earnest said. “In this case we’ve had about 48 hours to plan it.”

To make the trip, Obama scrapped his first joint campaign event with presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, scheduled for Wednesday in Green Bay, Wis. 

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