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In a brief Florida stop, Trump focuses on praising responders

President Trump and first lady Melania Trump visited Broward Health North Hospital on Feb. 16 to pay their respects to Florida school shooting victims. (Video: The Washington Post)

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. — President Trump, as he often does while responding to natural disasters, mass shootings or unfolding crises, spent much of his time congratulating the responders instead of memorializing the victims of Wednesday’s school shooting during a visit here Friday.

Trump, in two quick stops at a hospital and sheriff’s office near the school where 17 were killed and scores were injured, praised the doctors, police officers, fire officials and others who responded quickly to the mass shooting in Parkland, casting their response as heroic and record-setting.

“Incredible job, and everybody is talking about it,” Trump said of the response, with dozens of officers flanking a large circular conference room table on the fifth floor of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.

Trump said he saw victims at the hospital — he was not seen doing so — and even described one woman who suffered bullets to her lungs. That anecdote, though, quickly became about the officers, who responded within 20 minutes and saved her life.

As active shooter incidents become more common and more deadly, here's how President Trump has responded to four that unfolded under his presidency. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

“They were in really great shape,” he said of the families.

“The job they’ve done is incredible, and I want to congratulate you,” Trump said as he shook the hand of Dr. Igor Nichiporenko at the hospital.

He said he was impressed with the speed with which first responders reacted, calling it “record-setting” and “in one case, 20 minutes” from the school to the hospital.

“It’s an incredible thing,” Trump said. He later said the officers deserve a raise.

He did not give an emotional or rousing commemoration to the victims — like President Barack Obama’s after a mass shooting at a Charleston, S.C., church — nor did he publicly greet any families whose children were killed in the attack. Speaking at a funeral or a large vigil was not on the agenda. There were no calls for American resolve. There were no tears.

The visits were quick. For instance, Friday night, he was in the hospital for about 35 minutes, speaking to the news media for about 45 seconds. He was in the sheriff’s office a bit longer.

By 8:50 p.m, the president’s motorcade was rolling north to his palatial coastal estate called Mar-a-Lago.

The president and his aides — who have been largely silent as Cabinet officials have been accused of wrongdoing and inappropriate spending, an immigration push failed, 13 Russians were indicted with spreading disinformation to help Trump in the election, new detailed accusations of his alleged affairs emerged and concerns grew about security clearances — did not take questions again Friday.

Trump ignored shouted requests to weigh in on the FBI, which failed to follow up on a tip on the Florida shooter, and whether he believes gun laws should be tightened.

His critics and even some allies say he should look at changing laws after this latest mass shooting, and he probably would have been greeted by protesters had he visited a larger and less controlled setting, aides conceded. Even the New York Post, Trump’s favorite paper and a usual stalwart for conservatism, weighed in on its cover urging the president to “do something.”

On the corner across the street from the sheriff’s office stood a single protester, holding a poster board pleading with the president to “Protect Our Childrens(sic)!”

“Mr. Trump is a leader, and he needs to make sure that nobody else’s kids are killed,” said Maria Vergara, 43, a mother of four who lives up the street from the sheriff’s office.

The victims and those present at a vigil who called for tougher gun-control laws did not see the president.

Instead, he followed a tried-and-true playbook for responding to crises, as he has a mass shooting in Las Vegas and a hurricane in Texas: leaning on praise of the responders — casting their response in hyperbolic terms — while making quick and choreographed stops that do not draw protesters or detractors or large crowds.

In Texas, he heaped praise on emergency workers in a Corpus Christi firehouse before visiting a sheriff’s office, where he sat around a large conference room table — as he did in Florida — and praised those rescuing the victims.

In Las Vegas, he also visited a hospital and a sheriff’s office.

Aides said for days that Trump wanted to get to southern Florida while watching the news on the shooting unfold but had been blocked by the Secret Service and top advisers, who said they could not quickly orchestrate such a visit. He publicly said Friday night that others had suggested Sunday or Monday, but he said no.

At the sheriff’s office, his team told the assembled media it would be quicker than one minute for photos. Instead, Trump asked everyone around the table to introduce themselves and explain what they did. Many talked of their journeys into the blood-spattered school or their hunt for the suspect.

Trump thanked them all, and some praised the president for honoring and defending law enforcement officers.

At the end, Michael Leonard, the officer who found the gunman and handcuffed him, spent 15 seconds explaining his actions.

The president was not satisfied, so he elaborated for the officer:

“That was so modest; I would have told it much differently,” Trump said. “I would have said without me, they never would have found him.”