U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump are heading to Pittsburgh on Tuesday to offer condolences to the families of 11 members of a Jewish synagogue who were massacred last week in an anti-Semitic rampage, even as some Jewish leaders are demanding the president stay away until he denounces white nationalism.
The White House announced the trip Monday, saying the president and first lady will visit the city to "express the support of the American people and to grieve with the Pittsburgh community."
Trump told Fox News, "I'm just going to pay my respects. I'm also going to the hospital to see the officers and some of the people that were so badly hurt. ... I really look forward to going," he said. "I would have done it even sooner, but I didn't want to disrupt any more than they already had disruption."
Pittsburgh's Democratic mayor William Peduto said the Republican president should stay away from the city while families are holding funerals, the first of which are being held on Tuesday before Trump’s arrival. Several leaders of the Pittsburgh chapter of Bend the Arc, an activist Jewish organization that lobbies against Trump's policies, called on the president to cancel his visit, saying he was not welcome until he denounced white nationalism. A letter they issued was signed by tens of thousands of people nationwide.
"If the president is looking to come to Pittsburgh," Peduto said, "I would ask that he not do so while we are burying the dead." Peduto's office said the mayor does not plan to meet with Trump.
Top congressional leaders from both political parties declined invitations from Trump to join him in visiting, while the family of one of the victims is declining to meet the president. The family said it felt Trump's statement suggesting that an armed guard stationed at the synagogue might have prevented the attack was inappropriate.
Peduto told CNN a presidential visit would strain police and other law enforcement officers while they also are providing security for the funerals.
But Rabbi Jeffrey Myers at the Tree of Life synagogue where the mass killing occurred said the president is "certainly welcome" to visit Pittsburgh.
In the U.S. political debate, the term nationalist has often been equated with white nationalism and as denigrating to minorities.
In the Fox interview, Trump said that to him, there are no racial overtones to declaring himself a nationalist, as he did at a recent political rally.
"It means I love the country. It means I'm fighting for the country," Trump said. "I look at two things, globalists and nationalists. I'm somebody that wants to take care of our country, because for many, many years, you know this better than anybody — our leaders have been more worried about the world than they have about the United States, and they leave us in a mess — whether it's the wars, whether it's the economy, whether it's debt, whether it's all of the things that they've done, including putting in the wrong Supreme Court Justices. And we're — we've really put two great ones in. No, I'm proud of this country, and I call that 'nationalism.'"
Robert Bowers, the 46-year-old truck driver accused of carrying out the attack, made his first appearance before a federal judge Monday.
Authorities accuse Bowers of carrying out the rampage out of vitriolic hatred of Jews, posting anti-Semitic tirades online and screaming "All Jews must die" as he opened fire.
Bowers faces 29 federal charges, including some federal hate crimes. He could face the death penalty if he is convicted.
The Anti-Defamation League, which has tracked hatred and violence against Jews since the 1970s, said the Pittsburgh mayhem was the worst attack against the Jewish community in U.S. history.