Trump defends rhetoric after critics point finger over mass shooting

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFlorida GOP lawmaker says he's 'thinking' about impeachment Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS MORE on Wednesday defended himself against accusations that his immigration rhetoric inspired the suspected El Paso, Texas, shooter, who shot and killed 22 people after allegedly posting a manifesto warning of a “Hispanic invasion.”

Speaking before departing for El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, the site of another weekend mass shooting, Trump accused his opponents of “looking for political gain” by tying his comments to the shooting in Texas and insisted he would like to “stay out of the political fray” even as he sought to link the Dayton shooter to prominent Democrats.

“I don’t think my rhetoric does at all. I think my rhetoric brings people together. Our country is doing really well,” Trump said at the White House when asked by reporters if his comments contribute to violence.

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Trump’s visits to the sites of the mass shootings were intended to comfort the victims and heal communities marred by gun violence, but they have been shadowed by a divisive debate over Trump’s heated rhetoric that the president himself has fueled.

The president highlighted a Twitter account believed to belong to the Dayton shooter, who was shot dead at the scene, that tweeted messages of support for 2020 Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenHillicon Valley: GOP lawmakers offer election security measure | FTC Dem worries government is 'captured' by Big Tech | Lawmakers condemn Apple over Hong Kong censorship Sanders seeks spark from Ocasio-Cortez at Queens rally On The Money: Supreme Court takes up challenge to CFPB | Warren's surge brings scrutiny to wealth tax | Senators eye curbs on Trump emergency powers MORE (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders seeks spark from Ocasio-Cortez at Queens rally On The Money: Supreme Court takes up challenge to CFPB | Warren's surge brings scrutiny to wealth tax | Senators eye curbs on Trump emergency powers Biden seeks to fundraise off fact he's running out of money MORE (I-Vt.) as well as the left-wing group antifa.

“That was a person that supported, I guess you could say Bernie Sanders, I understood. Antifa, I understood. Elizabeth Warren, I understood. It had nothing to do with President Trump,” Trump told reporters. “I don’t blame Elizabeth Warren. I don’t blame Bernie Sanders. These are sick people."

Unlike the El Paso shooting, in which federal authorities are weighing hate crime charges, they have yet to determine the Dayton shooter’s motive. The FBI said investigators have discovered evidence the suspected gunman may have been motivated by “violent ideologies” but did not elaborate further.

Trump's latest comments came hours after the president lashed out at former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), who represented El Paso and has said the president shares blame for fostering the anti-immigrant climate that led to the shooting. Trump tweeted that O’Rourke, a 2020 White House candidate, has a ”phony name to indicate Hispanic heritage” and should “be quiet.”

O’Rourke and others have repeatedly pointed to similarities between a manifesto allegedly written by the El Paso suspect and language used by Trump, who has also warned of an “invasion” of migrants from Central America and argued that immigrants bring crime and disease.

“22 people in my hometown are dead after an act of terror inspired by your racism. El Paso will not be quiet and neither will I,” O'Rourke responded early Wednesday on Twitter.

Trump is expected to be met with a cool reception from local leaders in El Paso and Dayton, who have made comments in recent days indicating they are less than enthusiastic about the president’s visit. Protesters in Dayton are planning a demonstration featuring the “Baby Trump” blimp.

“He’s the president of the United States,” Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley (D) said Tuesday when asked if Trump’s visit was scheduled too soon after the shooting. “He does his calendar, I do mine.”