Trump to visit Pittsburgh despite local officials’ concern

November 20, 2018

The White House said President Trump will travel to Pittsburgh on Tuesday to offer his support in the wake of the Tree of Life Congregation massacre despite concerns from local officials about the timing of the visit.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during a news conference Monday that Trump and first lady Melania Trump are coming “to express the support of the American people and grieve with the Pittsburgh community.”

Prior to that announcement, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said Trump should hold off on visiting Pittsburgh until after funerals are held for the 11 people killed Saturday at Squirrel Hill’s Tree of Life Congregation synagogue.

Peduto, who spoke briefly with reporters as he left the City-County Building, said Pittsburgh doesn’t have enough public safety personnel to cover 11 funerals and a presidential visit simultaneously. He said the White House should first talk to the families of victims before scheduling a visit.

“I would ask that the White House staff contact the families and ask them if they want the president to be here,” Peduto said. “If the president is looking to come to Pittsburgh, I would ask that he not do so while we are burying the dead.”

Peduto said he met with several victims’ families but declined to share their sentiment on a Trump visit.

“I would ask the White House to make as their consideration in any potential visit, first the will of the families and second, the ability to keep focused on where the focus should be: the victims and their funerals,” Peduto said.

“All attention tomorrow should be on the victims,” Peduto said. “We do not have enough public safety officials to provide enough protection at the funerals and to be able at the same time to draw attention away to a potential presidential visit.”

On Sunday, the Pittsburgh chapter of Bend The Arc, a national group of progressive Jews, issued an open letter to Trump telling him he wasn’t welcome in Pittsburgh until he denounced white nationalism, stopped “targeting and endangering” minorities and ceased what the group called his “assault on immigrants and refugees.”

As of early Monday evening, more than 42,000 people had signed the letter online.

Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers said Monday he welcomed a visit from the president.

“The president of the United States is always welcome,” Myers told CNN. “I’m a citizen. He’s my president. He is certainly welcome.”

Sondra Krimmel, 72, of Highland Park, who was among throngs of people paying respects outside the Tree of Life, disagreed.

“I don’t want him to come,” she said. “I don’t think he would be welcome here because of his rhetoric. His words fire up a long line of people in the wrong way.”

David Knoll, 40, of Squirrel Hill said he’s not a fan of the president, but he would defer to Myers’ position. Knoll is a member of a neighboring Jewish congregation and was attending services in his synagogue Saturday when the shooting happened.

“I have friends saying he should not come and I have friends saying absolutely, he should come,” Knoll said. “This is not the time for politics. We’re not very fond of the president, but if Rabbi (Myers) doesn’t have a problem, I’m OK with that.”

An emotional Sanders addressed Saturday’s tragedy during the White House news conference.

“The 11 Jewish Americans who were horribly murdered represented the very best of our nation. They were brothers and sisters who looked out for each other, they were doctors who cared for citizens in need. They were proud grandparents who taught their grandchildren to value faith, family and country. And they were the religious heart of the Tree of Life community,” Sanders said.

“Our nation mourns the loss of these extraordinary Americans, and we also pray for those who were wounded. Our hearts are with the four brave police officers who were shot and injured while trying to stop the attack,” she added.

Sanders said Trump “cherishes the American Jewish community for everything it stands for and contributes to our country. He adores Jewish Americans as part of his own family. The president is the grandfather of several Jewish grandchildren. His daughter is a Jewish American and his son-in-law (Jared Kushner) is a descendant of Holocaust survivors.”

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