President Trump Strikes Back at Critics, Defends Anti-Immigration Rhetoric Ahead of El Paso Visit

Hours after President Donald Trump slammed Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke for saying that Trump's "racism" was responsible for the recent mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, the president defended his anti-immigration rhetoric on Wednesday, saying it was uniting the country.

"It brings people together," Trump said of his language. "Our country is doing incredibly well." He continued, calling illegal immigration a "terrible thing for our country" while saying he has toned down his rhetoric.

Shortly before Trump left the White House on Wednesday morning to meet with first responders and shooting victims in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, he tweeted that O'Rourke used a "phony name to indicate Hispanic heritage" and told him to "be quiet!"

O'Rourke, whose full name is Robert Francis O'Rourke, responded in a tweet saying "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."

Trump visited Dayton on Wednesday, where he was met with protesters unhappy about his inaction on gun regulations. Outside the hospital he was scheduled to visit, protestors inflated a large balloon of Trump as a baby, with signs reading "Do something" and "Go back to where you came from." Other signs read "Welcome to Toledo!", a reference to when Trump mistakenly referred to Dayton as Toledo in a nationwide address from the White House on Monday. Another group of protestors gathered near on Fifth Street, near the site of the shooting, where reporters said they heard chants of both "God bless Trump" and "Impeach Trump." Several shop and restaurant owners on the street also displayed political signs. One reads, "Our grief is not a commodity. Do something."

donald-trump-balloon-dayton-Getty-MEGAN JELINGER : Contributor
(Photo: MEGAN JELINGER / Contributor, Getty)

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley told reporters that Trump's "rhetoric has been painful for many in our community, and I think people should stand up and say they are not happy if they are not happy he's coming."

Before leaving the White House, Trump told reporters that criticism of him was politically motivated. He placed the blame for mass shootings on mental illness and a culture of violence.

"These are people who are looking for political gain, and as much as possible I try to stay out of that," he told reporters. He added that he supports stronger background checks and limits on allowing people with mental illness to have access to guns. He said he does not expect a ban on assault style weapons.

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"I have had many talks over the last few days, and I think we are going to come up with something that's gong to be really, really good," Trump said.

Following his visit in Dayton, Trump is scheduled to visit El Paso.