WASHINGTON — President Trump will visit Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso on Wednesday in an attempt to deliver a message of national unity and healing to two cities scarred by mass shootings over the weekend and where many grieving residents hold him responsible for inflaming the country’s racial divisions.
The president stands accused of embracing hateful rhetoric and dodging calls for gun control, prompting divided feelings in both places about whether his arrival will provide comfort or incite rancor. Mr. Trump is scheduled to arrive in Ohio in the morning before traveling on to Texas in the afternoon.
The Democratic mayor of Dayton, Nan Whaley, said on Tuesday that she had been “disappointed” with Mr. Trump’s remarks the day before about the two massacres, which left a combined 31 people dead. In a brief speech, Mr. Trump denounced white nationalism and called for more action to address mental illness and to combat online hate, but endorsed only minimal new gun control measures.
Still, Ms. Whaley said, she would respectfully welcome the nation’s elected leader to her city.
“He’s the president of the United States,” Ms. Whaley said. “When he comes as president I will greet him. I hope he’s coming here to add value and to help our community, and I hope it’s not about just a press hit and I hope it’s about him actually doing something.”
The mood in El Paso is more fraught. Situated on the border with Mexico, it has been a longtime focal point for Mr. Trump’s crusade to restrict immigration. And unlike in Dayton, the suspect in the Texas shooting left behind a political manifesto whose words echoed Mr. Trump’s language about immigrants, the border and national identity.
Some of the city’s political leaders have urged Mr. Trump not to visit, including the Democratic congresswoman from the area, Representative Veronica Escobar, and her predecessor, Beto O’Rourke, a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. “He should not come out here while we’re in mourning,” Ms. Escobar said on Monday.
But like Ms. Whaley in Dayton, El Paso’s mayor, Dee Margo, a Republican, suggested that his respect for the presidency would outweigh any personal reservations he holds about Mr. Trump.
“He’s coming out here on Wednesday,” Mr. Margo said during a news conference. “And I want to clarify for the political spin that this is the office of the mayor of El Paso in an official capacity welcoming the office of the president of the United States, which I consider is my formal duty.”
Senior Republican officials in both Texas and Ohio support Mr. Trump. Ohio’s governor, Mike DeWine, recently attended a fund-raiser for Mr. Trump, and Texas has two Republican senators and a governor who are all Trump allies. The only senior Democrat in the two states, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, told a talk radio host on Tuesday that he would not be present for Mr. Trump’s visit.
White House officials defended the president on Wednesday from continued charges that his divisive remarks, particularly about immigrants and people of color, have fueled a rise in white nationalism and may be pushing unstable people toward violence.
“This is a very, very serious moment in our country’s history,” Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, said on Tuesday. “This president recognizes the gravity of this moment.”
But Mr. Gidley also sought to turn the tables on some of Mr. Trump’s critics, pointing to other violent offenders who have shown sympathy for Democratic politicians. He cited a gunman who fired on a congressional baseball practice in June 2017, severely injuring Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, after writing anti-Trump and anti-Republican screeds. And he noted that a left-wing activist was shot and killed by the police last month after he showed up with a rifle and set fires outside a Department of Homeland Security detention center managed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Tacoma, Wash.
“We would never dream of blaming Ocasio-Cortez for someone who perpetrated a terrorist attack on a D.H.S. ICE facility because he used the same rhetoric she uses about concentration camps,” Mr. Gidley said, referring to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York. “You have to blame the people here who pulled the trigger.”
The Trump campaign was unapologetic on Tuesday about a New York Times report on its Facebook advertisements that use the word “invasion,” which featured prominently in the El Paso suspect’s manifesto. A senior Trump political adviser had a single-word answer — “no” — when asked if the campaign would change the tenor of its ads.
Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman, defended the ads.
“At any given moment, there are 100,000 migrants making their way through Mexico to attempt to break our immigration laws,” Mr. Murtaugh said. “By objecting to an accurate description of the situation, Democrats and the media are trying to make it impossible to oppose illegal immigration without being called racist.”
Even so, the Trump campaign’s current political ads do not appear to have a heavy focus on immigration. The most recent “invasion” ads on Facebook began running in May, and none of them were still evident on Tuesday.
Mr. Trump’s visits to Dayton and El Paso will not be the first time he has traveled to a grieving city with mixed emotions about his presence.
After a gunman who had a history of making anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant statements killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last fall, Mr. Trump was similarly accused of inspiring right-wing radicals prone to violence.
After he announced plans to visit the city, the national Jewish social justice organization Bend the Arc wrote Mr. Trump an open letter, which collected tens of thousands of signatures, telling him that “you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism.” Upon his arrival in the city, Mr. Trump was received with chants of “Words have meaning!”
But a senior rabbi at Tree of Life suggested that the office of the presidency required a degree of respect. “I’m a citizen, and he’s my president,” said the rabbi, Jeffrey Myers. “He’s certainly welcome.”
In his scripted public remarks, Mr. Trump condemned the violence and pledged a fight for “a future of justice, safety, tolerance, morality, dignity and love.”
Mr. Trump said on Twitter on Tuesday that he would meet with emergency medical workers, law enforcement and victims of the shootings in the two cities. But it is not clear whether he will speak extemporaneously in either city, a circumstance that in the past has caused him to stray from prepared remarks on sensitive topics. Taking questions before he left for Pittsburgh last fall, Mr. Trump provoked fresh anger when he observed that the shooting might have been stopped earlier had an armed guard been posted at the synagogue.
Some residents of El Paso have not forgiven the president for describing their city in his State of the Union address as “one of our nation’s most dangerous cities” before a barrier went up along the border.
“We need to stand in solidarity with those in pain, but also speak truth to power,” Ruben Segura, 51, said at a community vigil on Sunday night. He condemned Mr. Trump for “demonizing immigrants” and racist language.
Many in El Paso say that their city has been misunderstood. Mr. Margo has pushed back against the image of the city as needing fortification, and points out that it is routinely ranked among the nation’s safest.
He said on Monday that Mr. Trump had been “most gracious” during a recent phone call. Still, Mr. Margo did not play down tensions between the president and many in El Paso. In an interview, he stressed that he did not invite the president.
“The president can go anywhere he wants,” Mr. Margo said. “He’s president of the United States. I will greet him accordingly.”