President Trump grew angry with aides on Air Force One on Wednesday for failing to allow cameras to record his visits to hospitals treating the victims from two mass shootings, complaining that he was not receiving credit for the trips and his foes were dominating television news.
But a video that surfaced Thursday of Trump’s visit to an El Paso hospital shows him talking to medical staff about the crowd sizes that he and former congressman Beto O’Rourke drew at political rallies earlier in the year.
As Trump exchanges pleasantries with doctors and others at the University Medical Center of El Paso, the video shows him pausing to reminisce about dueling rallies that he and the Texas Democrat staged in El Paso in February focused on immigration and border security.
“That was some crowd,” Trump says of his event. “We had twice the number outside. And then you had this crazy Beto. Beto had like 400 people in a parking lot, and they said his crowd was wonderful.”
The video shows no one responding to Trump’s assertion before convening for group photos.
O’Rourke, now a presidential candidate, responded later Thursday: “This community is focused on healing. Not hatred. Not racism. Certainly not crowd sizes,” he wrote on Twitter.
Inside the White House, the trip was generally seen as “not ideal,” in the words of one senior administration official, as the president spent much of the day attacking his foes and complaining via Twitter as he traveled to Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso. The weekend shootings left 31 dead and dozens injured.
Four other aides, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions, described the trip in similar terms. Trump pushed back against such criticism in one of his more than a dozen tweets Wednesday.
“Leaving El Paso for the White House. What GREAT people I met there and in Dayton, Ohio. The Fake News worked overtime trying to disparage me and the two trips, but it just didn’t work. The love, respect & enthusiasm were there for all to see. They have been through so much. Sad!” he wrote.
Separately, he bragged that people showed him and the office of the presidency great respect, and a top adviser, Dan Scavino, wrote that he was greeted as a “ROCK STAR.”
Trump, complaining loudly on Air Force One, wanted pictures and video released immediately, according to people with knowledge of what happened, and asked aides to defend him. Trump has complained to allies since the shooting that he has not gotten enough credit for his response, according to these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private conversations.
Trump delivered brief remarks Monday and has expressed interest in extensive background checks and “red flag” laws — also known as extreme risk protection orders — for gun purchasers that allow family members or law enforcement to petition a judge to ban gun access for someone they believe is an imminent threat to themselves or others.
But Congress has no plans to cut short its August recess to work on any legislation.
While the president’s aides explained to reporters that cameras were kept out of the hospital because of logistical and privacy concerns, two White House officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there were concerns that they could capture an impolitic moment or the president making an insensitive comment.
The two events staged by Trump and O’Rourke in February along the U.S.-Mexico border came as congressional negotiators labored to avoid a partial government shutdown and Trump sought more funding for construction of his long-promised border wall.
About a mile down the road from Trump’s rally, several thousand demonstrators gathered at a high school carrying American flags, rainbow banners, “Beto for President” flags, and flags for Mexico and Texas. There were also signs decrying Trump and his border wall — such as “Trump made America hate again” — and chants from the crowd that included “Make tacos, not walls!”
A piece in the El Paso Times on the night of the rallies said that Trump had overstated his crowd size.
During his remarks, Trump thanked the fire department for allowing 10,000 people in the El Paso County Coliseum, beyond its stated capacity, and said “tens of thousands” of additional people were watching on screens outside.
A fire department spokesman told the Times that 6,500 people were inside the venue and no special accommodations were made.
Reporters traveling with Trump during his visits Wednesday were not permitted to witness his visits with hospital staff, first responders and others impacted by the shootings. While the media was kept at bay, Trump later tweeted two video montages documenting the visits.
The video showing part of his visit to the University Medical Center of El Paso was posted on Twitter late Wednesday by
KDBC-TV, a local CBS-affiliated television station. The station has been soliciting videos shot by viewers who were present for Trump’s visit.
Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.