President Trump paid his respects Tuesday to the victims of a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, while a coalition of liberal groups sought to gain partisan advantage by blaming the president for the tragedy and urging the public to “vote against anti-Semitism” on Election Day.
The president and first lady Melania Trump met privately with some of the wounded, with family members of some victims, and with first responders who confronted the gunman. They lit candles in the vestibule of the Tree of Life Synagogue steps from the sanctuary where the worshippers were gunned down. It is still a crime scene.
At a makeshift memorial outside the house of worship, the Trumps placed white flowers and small stones from a White House garden on 11 white Stars of David bearing the names of the dead. They chatted quietly with Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who witnessed the attack Saturday and described the tragedy for them in step-by-step detail.
They were accompanied by Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, all of whom are Jewish. Later at a hospital, the Trumps met with doctors and nurses who treated the wounded, and with four police officers who were wounded, including Officer Tim Matson, who is still in intensive care.
The president also met for about an hour with the widow of Dr. Richard Gottfried, who was killed in the attack.
“She said that she wanted to meet the president to let him know that people wanted him there,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Amid the president’s consoling visit, hundreds in the city’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood attended funerals for four of the victims: brothers David Rosenthal, 54, and Cecil Rosenthal, 59; Jerry Rabinowitz, 66; and Daniel Stein, 71.
Mr. Myers told mourners that the Rosenthal brothers had “not an ounce of hate in them, something we’re terribly missing in society today.”
Mrs. Sanders said the president “was very moved by the visit and his time with the rabbi, and called it very humbling and very sad.” She said the president commented how moved he was by the bravery of the first responders.
While the rabbi and many residents welcomed the president to the grieving community, others did not. On a street near the synagogue, hundreds of people who say Mr. Trump’s campaign rhetoric encourages violence marched to protest the president’s visit. There was at least one brief confrontation with police.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, a Democrat, declined an invitation from the White House to meet with the president. His spokesman said the mayor’s “sole focus is on the funerals.”
Mrs. Sanders said of the opposition to the president’s visit, “The president wanted to show his respect on behalf of the entire country, and to represent the country in this moment and be there to show our support.”
Presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway said the protests were unfortunate.
“This president was not about politics today,” she said on Fox News. “This is more of a natural place for him to be than people give him credit for. Those of us who have discussed this particular tragedy, act of evil, vile anti-Semitic hatred with him know where his heart is. And he’s tried to express that to the country.”
A coalition of dozens of progressive groups — including MoveOn.org, the AFL-CIO, the NAACP, NARAL Pro-Choice America and Voto Latino — published an open letter blaming Mr. Trump and the Republican Party in general for fomenting anti-Semitic violence.
“This mass shooting is a tragedy, but it was not indiscriminate,” the groups said. “It is the direct result of rhetoric that demonizes Jews and celebrates political violence.”
Referring to anti-Semitic messages posted by Robert Bowers, the man accused in the shooting, the groups said, “Antisemitism today is not always as overt as the Tree of Life Congregation shooter’s social media posts, but it is rampant, and it has been embraced by President Donald Trump and others with influential positions in our country.”
Their letter, to be published as a two-page advertisement Thursday in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, accuses the president of attacking “globalists” as a code for Jews. It blames Mr. Trump and the National Republican Congressional Committee for inciting hatred of liberal billionaire activist George Soros, who is Jewish and is a recipient of a pipe bomb mailed to him last week. A Trump supporter has been arrested in the mailings, which also targeted numerous Democratic lawmakers.
The open letter concludes with a pledge “to raise our voices against any politician who campaigns on antisemitism.”
“We can commit to vote against antisemitism on November 6th,” they said.
The White House rejected such accusations as outrageous. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, now a leader of the president’s Great America PAC, noted that the man accused in the shooting expressed opposition to the president and said the media are pushing a phony issue.
“The individual who committed these heinous crimes at the synagogue, or is alleged to have committed these crimes, was a Trump hater,” Mr. Lewandowski said Tuesday on radio’s “The John Fredericks Show.” “The media wants to go after this president for all the wrong reasons. They need to be held accountable too, and I hope the people do that.”
He said Mr. Trump was rising to the occasion as the nation’s “consoler in chief.”
“Our country is going to become stronger after a national tragedy. It always does,” Mr. Lewandowski said. “This is where the president is his strongest.”
Mr. Trump set aside time for the trip to Pittsburgh in the midst of a hectic final week of campaigning for Republican candidates, a schedule that will take him to eight states for 11 rallies before Election Day. As he campaigns mainly for Senate and gubernatorial candidates in the next week, Democrats are increasingly turning up the heat on Mr. Trump for his often fiery and combative campaign rhetoric.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden told voters Tuesday that he is “sick and tired” of the Trump administration, in the aftermath of the synagogue shooting and the pipe bombs mailed to prominent Democrats, including Mr. Biden.
“I am sick and tired of this administration,” Mr. Biden said at a campaign rally for Democrats in Wisconsin. “I’m sick and tired of what’s going on. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I hope you are, too.”
Mr. Biden, who is considering a presidential bid in 2020, said that “words matter,” an apparent rebuke of Mr. Trump’s campaign rhetoric.
“Three times this past week, the forces of hate have terrorized our fellow Americans for their political beliefs, the color of their skin or their religion,” Mr. Biden said. “Folks, this is not who we are. We need to recognize that words matter. Words matter.”
A Florida man was charged last week with mailing as many as 15 pipe bombs to high-profile critics of Mr. Trump, including former President Barack Obama, Mr. Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
Also last week, two black people were killed at a Kentucky grocery store, allegedly by a white gunman, in what authorities are investigating as a possible hate crime. Authorities say the gunman tried minutes earlier to enter a black church.
Mr. Biden said the pipe bombs sent to him and others could have been picked up by “our kids, our grandkids.”
On Monday, a U.S. magistrate judge ordered the synagogue shooting suspect, Mr. Bowers, held without bond. The truck driver who often posted anti-Semitic messages online, and was described as a loner, is charged with 29 felony counts.
If convicted, he faces a possible death sentence. Federal prosecutors say they are treating the mass shooting as a hate crime.
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