Washington, United States | AFP | A grave Donald Trump called on Americans to unify after the shooting of a Republican lawmaker and three other people Wednesday at a baseball field, striking a notably less partisan tone in response to his first major domestic crisis.
From the Diplomatic Room of the White House, the US president turned statesman as he praised first responders and led prayers for wounded Congressman Steve Scalise.
Ditching derogatory rhetoric about the Washington “swamp”, Trump rallied in support of his fellow politicians and called on the country to pull together.
“We may have our differences, but we do well, in times like these, to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country,” Trump said.
“We are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good,” he added.
During two minutes of prepared remarks, Trump — who turned 71 on Wednesday — stayed on script, putting aside rhetoric that has made him one of the most divisive presidents in modern times.
In word and manner Trump bore little resemblance the political street fighter who has carried his campaign’s brass knuckles with him to the Oval Office.
Less than a year ago, Trump told gun rights advocates in North Carolina they could solve the problem of a president Hillary Clinton appointing liberal Supreme Court justices.
Earlier this month, in the aftermath of a jihadist attack in London, Trump assailed the city’s Muslim mayor and redoubled his call to ban travelers from six Muslim-majority countries.
That sort of visceral response had left observers worrying about Trump’s temperament and how he might respond at a time of national crisis.
So when an anti-Trump gunman shot at Republican lawmakers practicing for an annual Congressional baseball game — which itself splits teams along party lines — there was concern that the partisan cauldron was about to irrupt.
In the immediate aftermath of the assault — in which two other people including a Capitol police officer suffered minor non-gunshot injuries — White House aide Kellyanne Conway and the president’s son Donald Trump junior appeared to blame Trump’s critics for the shooting.
They both retweeted an unverified claimed that the gunman asked whether the baseball players were Republicans or Democrats.
– ‘Grateful for their heroism’ –
But the White House quickly cleared Trump’s schedule of political events and prepared remarks that could have been made by almost any president.
Trump praised the “heroic” acts of law enforcement in subduing the shooter, identified as 66-year-old James Hodgkinson, who died of gunshot wounds sustained when police engaged him.
“Many lives would have been lost if not for the heroic actions of the two Capitol Police officers who took down the gunman despite sustaining gunshot wounds during a very, very brutal assault,” Trump said.
“Melania and I are grateful for their heroism and praying for the swift recovery of all victims.”
Trump described Scalise as a “very good friend,” a “patriot” and a “fighter.”
“America is praying for you and America is praying for all of the victims of this terrible shooting,” he said.