Mitch Perry Report for 6.27.16 — The auditioning begins to be Hillary’s VP pick

First of all, our condolences go out this morning to the family and friends of Tampa’s Stacy Frank, who died over the weekend from lung cancer at the age of 61.

Well, we’re less than a month away from both political conventions taking place. Traditionally, the biggest news there (or in the days before) is the revelation of the running-mates of the respective nominees.

We can speculate about who might be the Republican VP nominee later, but let’s focus this morning on the Democrats.

Among those getting lots of love in the rankings is Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, who had a job interview of sorts with NBC’s Chuck Todd on Meet The Press on Sunday.

Kaine is considered a solid if safe pick. The 58-year-old former Governor of Virginia and chair of the Democratic National Committee, the Virginia Senator was viewed as a possible pick for Barack Obama in 2008 as well.

A Harvard Law grad, he took a year off from college to head a Jesuit technical school in Honduras, and later opened a legal practice specializing in housing rights for the poor and disabled. He also speaks Spanish.

He’s also a white male, which may or may not help him get the nod. He admitted yesterday that he might be a little boring, with a lack of charisma being considered one of his minuses. That and his stance on abortion, at least for some Democrats. When asked about it yesterday, he said, “what matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

In other words, my position is nuanced enough to satisfy pro-choice Dems.

Meanwhile, Labor Secretary Tom Perez appeared on ABC’s This Week. Previously, Perez was head of the civil rights division at the Justice Department. The son of Dominican immigrants, he’s very popular with liberals within the party, and after Julian Castro, is probably the highest ranking Latino on Clinton’s short (or medium) list.

Perez demurred when asked by George Stephanopoulos if he would accept the VP job, if asked, meaning he definitely would. Although Perez has definitely shown some pizazz in some interviews, he was relatively low-key yesterday, though he certainly fulfilled the requirements of bashing Donald Trump.

In other news …

While the weekend was relatively quiet, Friday there was lots of news when it came the to qualifying deadline. Among the highlights:

Senate District 19 candidate Augie Ribeiro made it official that he ‘s in that race Read more about him here.

We also said goodbye to Todd Wilcox’s dreams to become the next U.S. Senator from Florida.

Business promotion and politics par for Donald Trump’s golf tour

Donald Trump moved from hole to hole on his wind-swept Scotland golf course Saturday, not a club in hand but promotion on his mind, extolling North Sea views that are among “the great sights of the world.”

He squeezed in commentary about the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union and Hillary Clinton‘s tax policies. And when the abbreviated tour of Trump International Golf Links ended at the clubhouse, Trump ditched the pack of reporters trampling on his fairways, hopped into the driver’s seat of a golf cart and gave media mogul Rupert Murdoch and wife Jerry Hall a ride around the property.

Business, with a wedge of politics, was par for the day.

A Trump scorecard by hole:

—On the 10th fairway, he said Texas wouldn’t take a cue from the U.K. and try to secede. “Texas will never do that because Texas loves me.”

—On the 13th green, he said fixing the United States would be like repairing a golf course. “It’s not so different, it’s just bigger.”

—On the 14th green, he boasted about overcoming some local opposition to building the course. “I am good at getting things zoned.”

—On the 18th tee, he warned scrambling reporters: “Don’t fall! I don’t want to be sued.”

Trump’s appearance at the course outside Aberdeen was the final event of his two-day tour of his golf resorts in Scotland. While the timing of the trip was not linked to Thursday’s referendum, the U.K.’s surprising vote dominated the questioning of the presumptive Republican nominee for U.S. president.

Trump has cheered the outcome and tried to play down American fears about it. The U.S. stock market and global markets plunged Friday after the “leave” side won.

“Americans are very much different. This shouldn’t even affect them. I mean frankly, if it’s done properly, if we had proper leadership,” Trump said moments after emerging from his helicopter on the 10th fairway.

When pressed about the stock market drop that has caused Americans to fret about retirement plans and savings, Trump suggested that Wall Street was actually worried about President Barack Obama’s economic policies and the U.S. debt.

Trump has linked the nationalist fervor behind the “leave” vote to the forces driving his own campaign. He shrugged off the criticism he received for saying that if the value of the British pound falls, more people would spend money at his courses.

“I don’t want to have a plummeting pound,” Trump said. “But if it does plummet, I do well. And if it does well, I do well. I do well in any case.”

Trump also muddied the waters about his call for a temporary ban on foreign Muslims from entering the United States. Trump, in a speech this month, added a new element, saying he favors suspending immigration from parts of the world where there is proven history of terrorism against the U.S. and its allies.

On Saturday, he said it “wouldn’t bother me” if a Muslim from Scotland tried to enter the U.S. Then, he suggested to reporters that “strong vetting,” and not a ban, would be an essential part of his immigration policy.

Spokeswoman Hope Hicks later clarified that Trump’s position has not changed since the speech.

The scene outside Aberdeen, a day after Trump reopened a course on Scotland’s opposite coast, again highlighted the unprecedented co-mingling between the candidate’s business and campaign, as well as his ability to create a made-for-TV spectacle.

Aides originally said Trump would not talk to reporters. Then they said he would only discuss the golf course.

Trump had other ideas. He ended up holding court at four separate holes. Reporters piled into golf carts and ran along fairways to keep up.

The roving news conferences doubled as an advertisement for the course, which despite its stark beauty, has failed to live up to Trump’s lofty promises. Trump has claimed to Scottish authorities that he lost money on the court, and it has yet to host a major tournament. He has fought local authorities over a proposed wind farm and the preservation of the dunes that line the course.

Though Trump boasted he won his zoning battles with the town, the owners of two houses that line the course remain unbowed. As a protest of Trump’s immigration proposals, which include building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, each flew a Mexican flag that could be easily spotted from the course’s clubhouse.

Diane Roberts: In Scotland, Donald Trump plays the ‘ugly American’

As he arrived at his golf course in Scotland, wearing a white “Make America Great Again” cap, Donald Trump’s cosmetically-enhanced grin was wide as the ocean, despite the guy handing out golf balls with swastikas on them, despite the protesters waving Mexican flags. The UK’s vote to leave the European Union was “fantastic,” he said. The British have “taken back their country,” no longer accepting all those immigrants “pouring over their borders.”

Bloody foreigners.

Watch for Trump will to try and make his own hay here, linking “Brexit” to anti-immigrant sentiment in the US. No doubt he takes it as a signal that he will prevail in November.

And check this out: Boris Johnson, the anti-EU Tory likely to become prime minister when David Cameron resigns in the fall, is something of a populist as well as a notorious philanderer with a shock of peculiar margarine-colored hair.

It’s a sign!

The UK, like the US, is sharply divided, as the “Brexit” vote reveals. The more educated, more urban, more ethnically diverse and more affluent wanted to stay in the EU; the less educated, more rural, and whiter population still struggling to recover from the 2008 recession and the Conservative government’s “austerity” program, were hell-bent on leaving.

Trump famously “loves the poorly educated” and they, evidently, love him back.

Here’s what’s really going on: white people no longer rule everything. And it’s driving them crazy.

In Britain, fifty years of immigration has created a vibrant multicultural nation. That influx of people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uganda, Nigeria, and the West Indies, people who practice medicine, run restaurants, teach school, hold political office, and participate in every other aspect of British life, has little to do with the EU. It’s the Empire striking back. For 200 years, people in these former colonies were told that England is the Mother Country, so it’s hardly surprising that some of them decided to go “home.”

EU citizens have also relocated to the UK, but more recently and in fewer numbers, yet somehow they bear the brunt of “Brexit’s” Anglo-Saxon rage. The UK Independence Party, a Trumpian collection of xenophobes and outright racists, were expert at convincing disaffected working-class voters that they were unemployed because of the EU, not an economy changing from manufacturing to services.

UKIP, along with hubristic Tory politicians and the Murdoch press (Sun headline on June 23rd: “Be-LEAVE in Britain”) also played on patriotism and the lurking sense that the EU is soft on terrorism.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who wanted to stay in the EU, did a crap job of arguing for the benefits the EU brings, instead trying to out-scare and out-outrage the anti-EU forces. Decades of hilariously-weird urban myths have flourished in British popular culture. EU regulators say bananas should not display “abnormal curvature.” The “Full English Breakfast,” a festival of fat beloved of all true John and Jane Bulls, should be replaced by “muesli and croissants.” Worst of all, the EU might force barmaids to stop wearing low-cut tops.

None of these dictates were actually true, but that didn’t stop the tabloid press from launching a “Save Our Jugs” campaign.

In terms of subtlety and truth, these canards are right up there with Barack Obama coming to take your guns, or Hillary Clinton wanting to let in hundreds of thousands of crazed jihadis who will impose sharia law and vote a straight Democrat ticket.

Pissed-off white people here in the US don’t have an EU to focus their anger upon, so they fixate on a variety of “Others”–Mexicans, African-Americans, liberals, gays, feminists, intellectuals, elites. Lately, it’s an emotional roller-coaster ride.  The same day the British went to the polls on EU membership, the Supreme Court slapped white folks upside the head by saying yes, affirmative action that takes into account the race of a university applicant is A-OK.

Then SCOTUS turned around and decided to not decide on Barack Obama’s immigration initiative, leaving a few million undocumenteds worrying that they could be deported at any time.

They won’t be: the president has made it clear that he’s more interested in deporting people who commit crimes instead of the mother of a couple of US citizens who crossed the border illegally.

But Republicans and Trumpsters will gin this up, telling their voters–strangely like Britain’s anti-EU voters–that the November election is their chance to make sure a right-winger gets on the Supreme Court to break the tie.

And Clinton supporters will get revved up to see that Hillary chooses the next Supreme Court justice.

The UK is not, of course, exactly like the US. The EU referendum is not the same as our presidential election. But the nationalist, isolationist impulses that make Trump’s “America First” campaign or Brexiters’s “Britain First” campaign come from a similar place: frightened, angry, frustrated and mean-spirited.

No help from DC? Florida to spend millions on Zika fight

Saying he was “profoundly disappointed” with the ongoing federal stalemate over the Zika virus, Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday ordered the state to spend millions in an effort to stop its potential spread.

Scott used his emergency powers to authorize spending up to $26.2 million on everything from killing mosquitoes, training mosquito technicians and purchasing Zika prevention kits.

The Republican governor has been calling on the federal government for weeks to approve money to fight the Zika virus, which can cause grave birth defects and can be transmitted by mosquitoes and sexual contact. The U.S. House this week approved a $1.1 billion measure. But President Barack Obama is threatening to veto the legislation, saying it provides too little money and contains too many partisan provisions.

“We are in the middle of hot, rainy weather which is when mosquitoes are most prevalent,” Scott said in a statement. “It is clear that allocating this funding is necessary if we are going to stay ahead of the spread of this virus. I am profoundly disappointed that Washington does not share in our commitment and has continued to play politics with the health and safety of our families.”

Florida currently has more than 200 cases of Zika virus, including 40 pregnant women. All of the cases involve residents infected outside the country, but Scott has predicted that it would be a “disaster” if mosquitoes in the state started transmitting the disease.

The Scott administration says that so far the federal government has only allocated $153,844 for epidemiology and lab support, $500,000 for seven counties for mosquito control and $40,856 in lab supplies and personnel.

Scott said that more than 40 counties, cities and mosquito control districts have asked for $19 million in assistance. He has declared a state of emergency in 23 counties because of the virus, a move that allows Scott to bypass the Florida Legislature and take money from the state’s main bank account.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Todd Wilcox dropping out of race for U.S. Senate

Todd Wilcox is dropping out of the U.S. Senate race in Florida.

Sources close to Wilcox’s decision say his withdrawal from the race is imminent and that he will support Marco Rubio for the good of the Republican Party.

The former Special Forces commander and CIA veteran becomes the fourth Republican to drop out of the contest after Rubio decided to run for re-election to his seat, after repeatedly saying he would not.

Wilcox denied that he would drop out just two days ago, citing his decades of experience in national security and the economy and declaring “none of that has changed based on yet another career politician entering this race.”

But something did change in the last 48 hours.

Perhaps it was the results of a poll conducted on Wednesday showing Wilcox trailing Rubio by more than 50 percentage points.

In any event, Manatee County developer Carlos Beruff is now the only Republican left standing in the way of Rubio winning the GOP primary Aug. 30.

Wilcox entered the contest last year on the 4th of July, where he declared in his announcement video he was “fed up with the status quo of career politicians … and I am running for the U.S. Senate to restore America’s prominence.”

A graduate of Tampa’s Robinson High School and the University of Tampa, Wilcox had an extensive career in the U.S. military and CIA before entering the private sector in 2006.

Wilcox released this statement Friday morning:

“A year ago I decided to run for the United States Senate because I firmly believe that who we are as a nation is being challenged by evil threats around the world and, sometimes just as dangerously, by liberal influences here at home. I entered this race because I know in my gut that if we are to reverse course and preserve the liberties and freedoms so many brave men and women have laid down their lives in pursuit of, we must keep this seat in the Republican Party.

“There is no doubt that Republican control of the Senate is the only way to preserve the Constitutional integrity of our Supreme Court, realign our military’s force structure and ensure the basic freedoms and liberties that make ours the greatest country in the world.

“We must bring to an end this era of politics in Florida where deep pockets go to great lengths to buy elections — dismissing voters as nothing more than ratings points in a media buy, forsaking the grass roots advocates for whom the Republican Party exists and refusing to substantively debate the most important issues facing our state and nation.

“Elections have consequences and eleven days ago an enemy I know all too well horrifically ended 49 lives and forever changed countless more just 15 miles from where I tucked my family in that night. It’s easy to get caught up in the ideological theater that unfolds in Washington, D.C., but Orlando should serve as a reminder that life and death decisions are being made each and every day by the people we elect.

“While I support Donald Trump because he is the Republican nominee, I can’t predict who will win the White House in November. What I can do is impact who Florida sends to the United States Senate to challenge our next President should they try to dismantle our Constitution, put politics above principle or choose to ignore the needs of our servicemen and women, both past and present.

“As a leader, I have always taught my team that changing course after devising a plan doesn’t mean you give up on the mission, it just means you have to find a new path. So today, with a clear understanding of the impact that recent changes have had in this race, that’s just what I’m going to do.

“With all that is at stake, I have decided to end my campaign for the United Senate and support Marco Rubio in his bid to keep this seat in the Republican Party. Senator Rubio and I don’t agree on everything. We’ve traveled different paths, but I respect his grasp of the challenges we face and I appreciate the reality that he, as the incumbent, is best positioned to defeat either Patrick Murphy or Alan Grayson in November. We cannot allow either of these liberal Democrats to carry on the disastrous policies of the Obama administration — Floridians deserve better.

“Unless you’ve experienced it, it’s hard to explain what traveling all over this great state for the last year has been like. I’ve talked to so many people who genuinely and thoughtfully want to share their ideas about how to make our country the best it can possibly be. I am grateful to each and every hardworking conservative I met along the way who took time away from their families, their work or their weekends to give me a chance to earn their support. I am humbled by the encouragement of my supporters and the depth of their faith and confidence in me. I don’t take any of this lightly and it is something I will never be able to thank them for enough.

“To our volunteers and my team, I am forever grateful for your hard work, professionalism and commitment to the mission.

“Finally, I want to thank my wife Christine and our girls, Tori, Danielle and Hayden for their patience, understanding and support over the last year. It has always been and will continue to be because of them that I fight for our great nation, whether on the battlefield, in my business or at the ballot box.”

Darryl E. Owens: The horror of wounded empathy — or when mass shootings become humdrum

The day before I jetted to Charlotte for a weeklong vacation, unspeakable ugliness ambushed the City Beautiful.

First, it descended upon an Orlando nightspot where more than 300 revelers came on “Latin Night” to live la vida loca.”

Later, it crept into my bedroom.

Early that Sunday at Pulse, too many fathers, mothers, sons and daughters died — now destined to live forever in a purgatory that reduces rich, unique lives to a single grim number: 49. The number of caskets required to bury the victims of America’s newly minted deadliest mass shooting.

Early that morning, I noticed an Orlando Sentinel alert on my iPhone.

“Breaking: Orlando pulse nightclub shooting: about 20 dead in an act of terrorism, police say.”

Twenty dead.

Awful, I thought.

For an instant.

Then, I kept it moving.

Only a new alert around 10:30 a.m. that scaled up to 50 those who died in a hellish hail of AR-15-like hate pricked my sensibilities.

My God.

The horror unleashed at the gay nightclub where my daughter frequently joined her fellow musical theater chums from the University of Central Florida to decompress.

My God.

My anesthetized response.

Neither scenario could I believe.

Having worked as a columnist and editorial writer for The Orlando Sentinel for 25 years, God knows I spilled too much ink over innocent blood spilled in the latest paroxysm of hatred, insanity or terror.

Over San Bernardino where 14 people were gunned down.

Over Umpqua Community College where nine were shot dead.

Over Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church where the shooter prayed with the flock before gunning down nine.

Over too many more.

Each time, I poured into each epitaph, primal scream, supplication all my passion, empathy, agony, outrage and hope that THIS time someone would listen.

That this time, outrage would drain the fever swamp where reason agnostics wade and imagine that prying Rambo weapons from their not-yet-cold-dead hands greases some mythical slippery Second Amendment slope.

That this time, would be the last time.

Even after America’s heart broke when 20 babies barely out of Pampers and six adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary, even after a nation gnashed her teeth over solutions, even after we knew this would happen again, we failed to engage real change.

It never has been the last time.

Innocent blood slickens that contested slope.

As troubling for me — my near-shrug at the initial Pulse death toll.

True, the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre set the previous bar with 32 dead.

What’s also true is the prospect that a massacre each time now might need to set a record to stir heartbreak unnerves me.

It signals something is broken. Perhaps in me. Certainly, in a society that refuses to do not anything because nothing we propose will stop EVERY mass shooting. As if preventing one Sandy Hook isn’t worth the effort.

As happens after these all-to-common tragedies, a recent CNN/ORC poll shows rising support for gun control; it’s now at 55 percent — the highest percentage since weeks after Sandy Hook.

Each massacre, like a can of Red Bull, jolts us out of our torpor for a short-lived burst. Then, we listlessly crash back into apathy — the hard work of real change undone.

President Barack Obama, soon after the shooting, challenged us to choose whether a nation that tolerates such tragedies is the kind of “country we want to be.”

For certain, someone who experiences a stale twinge of sadness that blows through the soul as if a brief summer breeze that teases comfort isn’t who I want to be.

Just maybe, Pulse finally will stir a nation resolutely at least to act on curbing access to a weapon no civilian should ever possess, which by itself, is merely a grim stab at trying to reduce the body counts of the massacres to which we’ve grown comfortably numb.

Or not — Monday, the U.S. Senate again failed to pass any of several measures to keep guns out the wrong hands.

What’s it going to take for us to yearn to avert this heartbreak again?

Perhaps another cattle rattle from death’s macabre auctioneer?

Forty-nine … 49 … 49 …

Do I hear 50?


Former award-winning Orlando Sentinel columnist Darryl E. Owens now serves as director of communication at Beacon College in Leesburg, the first higher education institution accredited to award bachelor’s degrees exclusively to students with learning disabilities, ADHD and other learning differences. Views expressed are his own.

Rick Scott: “disappointing” Obama admin rejected emergency declaration following Orlando shooting

Gov. Rick Scott said Monday he finds it thoroughly “disappointing” Obama administration authorities have denied his request for a federal emergency declaration in the wake of last weekend’s deadly shooting at an Orlando night club.

Scott cited $5 million he requested which the state of Florida will miss out on, which Scott said would have funded “emergency response efforts, law enforcement response, emergency medical care, counseling services and other social services to assist victims.”

Federal officials have, however, approved $253,000 to help pay for overtime for hundreds first responders who worked long hours after the attack.

“It is incredibly disappointing that the Obama Administration denied our request for an Emergency Declaration.  Last week, a terrorist killed 49 people, and wounded many others, which was the deadliest shooting in U.S. history,” said Scott, long a states’ rights advocate and staunch opponent of President Barack Obama.

“It is unthinkable that President Obama does not define this as an emergency. We are committing every state resource possible to help the victims and the community heal and we expect the same from the federal government,” continued Scott.

Scott pointed out several other times when federal officials saw fit to declare such a state of emergency, including the so-called Boston Bombing, a 2013 fertilizer explosion in West, Texas, and the president’s own inauguration in 2009.


Two new polls show different results in David Jolly vs. Charlie Crist congressional race

Two new surveys of the race in Florida’s 13th Congressional District show the volatility of the just-formed match between Republican incumbent David Jolly and his Democratic challenger, Charlie Crist.

A private poll conducted for the Crist campaign by Public Policy Polling survey shows Crist leading Jolly, 46 to 43 percent.

Meanwhile, a new poll whose results were published Monday by McLaughlin & Associates shows Jolly leading Crist 50 to 38 percent, with 12 percent undecided. The McLaughlin & Associates survey was first reported in Politico.

The only previous public survey conducted by St. Pete Polls showed the race in a dead heat, with the candidates tied at 44 percent.

The McLaughlin & Associates survey also shows that while Jolly has an extremely favorable/unfavorable rating of 46/13 percent, Crist is underwater, with 37 percent favorable and 41 percent unfavorable.

“David Jolly is well-positioned to win this race,” write pollsters Jim McLaughlin and Rob Schmidt in a memo. “Jolly is quite popular with voters and he has significantly higher favorable ratings than Charlie Crist. Even though this seat has become somewhat more Democratic, David Jolly appears to be the best candidate to keep this seat in Republican hand.”

All these published surveys upend the narrative that the district was impossible for a Republican to win after the Florida Supreme Court ruled last summer the district was one of eight drawn up in violation of the Florida Constitution in 2012. While CD 13 previously was a slightly leaning Democratic district, the newly drawn district makes it much more Democratic-friendly.

Jolly announced Friday that was dropping out of the race for U.S. Senate, and would run again for re-election in CD 13, now against Crist, who announced his candidacy last fall. Democrats tried to downplay the announcement, citing statistics about how well Democrats have done in the district in recent years. They mentioned how Barack Obama won the newly drawn up district by 11 points in 2012, and Bill Nelson won it by 26 points over Connie Mack the same year.

But that may not hurt Jolly, who won a special election in March of 2014 to succeed his former boss, the late C.W. Bill Young, a Republican who held the seat for more than four decades.

The PPP survey was taken of 1,030 voters in CD 13 on June 6 and 7.

McLaughlin & Associates conducted a survey of 400 registered voters in Florida’s 13th Congressional District on June 1 and 2. It has an accuracy of plus-or-minus 4.9 percent at a 95 percent confidence interval.

Obama concludes meeting with families of victims

President Barack Obama has concluded his meeting with survivors and the families of victims killed in Sunday’s nightclub shooting in Orlando.

The president is visiting Orlando to express solidarity with the grief-stricken community.

The White House says that Obama and Vice President Joe Biden also met with the owners and staff of the Pulse nightclub who were working when the attack occurred. Two employees were killed in the attack.

The president and vice president have also had the chance to meet with local law enforcement officials to thank them for their work in responding to the attack, which killed 49 and injured more than 50.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Barack Obama offering sympathy but no easy answers in Orlando

Offering sympathy but no easy answers, President Barack Obama came Thursday to Orlando to try to console those mourning the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Air Force One touched down at midday in this grief-stricken community, where Obama planned to spend a few hours meeting in private with families of the 49 victims, with survivors and with local law enforcement officials who responded to the shooting. He planned to emphasize his solidarity with Orlando’s gays and lesbians but planned no major speech or call to action.

The low-profile visit reflected the challenge for the president to find something meaningful to say about an attack that has stoked a wide mix of fears about terrorism, guns and violence against gays. Even as the families of the victims bury their loved ones, it’s unclear what led a 29-year-old Muslim born in New York to open fire in a gay nightclub early Sunday where he may have been a frequent patron.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama would deal with the ambiguity in the Florida shooting by focusing on the victims.

“The president’s visit to Orlando has nothing to do with the individual who perpetrated this terrible attack,” Earnest said Wednesday. He said Obama intended to tell residents “that they’re not alone, even as they endure what surely have been several dark nights.”

The White House released few details in advance about Obama’s trip, which aides said was hurriedly arranged in a fraction of the time usually required to plan a presidential trip. But Obama planned to use the visit “to make clear that the country stands with the people of Orlando, stands with the LGBT community in Orlando, as they grieve for their loss,” Earnest said.

The president’s call for rejecting bigotry against gays and lesbians is complicated by the possibility that the gunman, Omar Mateen, may have been wrestling with his own sexuality. The FBI has been looking into reports that Mateen frequented the nightspot and reached out to men on gay dating apps.

Obama intended to focus on making the visit a moment of solidarity.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican frequently at odds with Obama, greeted the president on the tarmac upon his arrival. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, also a Republican, traveled with Obama from Washington, along with Rep. Corrine Brown, a Democrat who represents parts of the city. Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., joined Obama on the tarmac.

The investigation and makeshift memorials in Orlando have seemed a world away from Washington and the presidential campaign, where initial horror has quickly given way to a vicious political brawl.

Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has expanded his call for temporarily barring foreign Muslims from entering the U.S. – even though the attacker was an American – and said the president “prioritizes” America’s enemies over its people. In a rare bout of public anger, Obama denounced both Trump and the GOP leaders who are still supporting Trump. Many of those Republican leaders also denounced Trump’s rhetoric.

In Congress, the attack has spurred another bitter fight over gun control, exposing deep frustration among supporters of stricter gun laws that no level of mass casualty seems to be enough to force gun control opponents to reconsider.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, whose state of Connecticut shouldered the killing of 20 children in Newtown in 2012, undertook a roughly 15-hour filibuster that lasted into the early hours of Thursday. As he yielded the floor, Murphy said GOP leaders had committed to hold votes on expanded gun background checks and a ban on gun sales to suspected terrorists.

In an unexpected twist, Trump said he planned to meet with the National Rifle Association “about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no-fly list, to buy guns.”

For Obama, the trip to Orlando was an unwelcome return to one of the most difficult roles a president must fulfill: comforting the nation at times when few words seem capable of providing much comfort. Obama has lamented the frequency with which he’s had to perform that duty, calling his inability to enact stricter gun laws the biggest frustration of his presidency.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.