Yet again making the all-too-familiar trip to console and grieve with victims of a mass shooting in an American community, President Barack Obama will travel to Orlando on Thursday.
The trek has become a sadly frequent one for Obama, whose presidency has coincided with other high-profile mass shootings in San Bernardino, California; Charleston, South Carolina; and Newtown, Connecticut.
But Sunday’s slaying of 49 people at a gay nightclub holds special significance as the worst of them all — the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
While in Orlando, Obama will visit with families of the dead and the 53 people who were injured. The president also plans to meet with surgeons, doctors and nurses who treated the wounded, and law enforcement officials and first-responders who were on the scene in the early hours of Sunday morning.
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Specific details on the visit haven’t been released. But Obama is expected to also attend a prayer vigil at the Amway Center, Orlando officials told the Herald/Times.
Obama wants to offer “comfort and support to a community that’s grieving,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday, adding that he expects it will be “an emotional trip” for the president.
“The president understands that he is a symbol of the country. And when he travels to a community and meets with a family that has endured a terrible tragedy, he’s offering a message of condolence and comfort on behalf of the American people,” Earnest said. “This is a solemn responsibility. This is a responsibility that’s all the more important when you’re talking about the way that the LGBT community in Orlando came under attack.”
Vice President Joe Biden is traveling separately but will join Obama in Orlando.
While the visit will be a somber one, it will also be underscored by some recent political tension between Obama and Republican Gov. Rick Scott — despite other public displays of bipartisanship in a time of tragedy.
Scott, Democratic members of Florida’s congressional delegation and Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio are expected to join Obama in Orlando during portions of his visit. Among those traveling with Obama on Air Force One from Washington will be Democrats U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, whose district includes the area of Orlando where Pulse is located.
Scott will, at least, be on the tarmac when Air Force One touches down, his spokeswoman Jackie Schutz told the Herald/Times — a noteworthy attendance because it comes after several days of icy relations between the Republican governor and the Democratic president.
Scott’s administration has inferred a snub by the president because Obama did not call Scott to offer his condolences until Wednesday afternoon, more than three days after the shooting massacre.
The White House did not return an email from the Herald/Times asking why it took so long for Obama to make the call.
It’s unclear how long his conversation with Scott lasted. Schutz said: “The president called to offer his condolences. Governor Scott reiterated his request for the emergency declaration requested on Monday.”
Scott and leaders in his administration have made the rounds on cable news this week, not-so-subtly pointing out that Obama hadn’t yet called Scott. As recently as Wednesday morning, Republican Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera was telling Fox News: “There still has been no phone call.”
While Obama didn’t call Scott until Wednesday, Scott did speak Monday night with senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.
Unlike other calls Scott received, he offered little fanfare once Obama finally phoned — only addressing it after the fact by releasing a revised public schedule.
Scott avoided the potential for direct questions from reporters by waiting to announce that the phone call had occurred until 90 minutes after he spoke and took questions at a press conference Wednesday afternoon related to the investigation into Sunday’s attack. He gave no indication at that event that he had finally spoken with the president about an hour earlier.
By comparison, Scott issued similar after-the-fact, revised public schedules after he got calls on Monday from both former President George W. Bush and Obama adviser Jarrett.
After he spoke with Bush, he openly thanked Bush and former first lady Laura Bush on Twitter. Scott offered no such public praise or recognition for Obama.
Clark reported from Tallahassee. Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report from Orlando; reporter Amy Sherman, from Miami; and reporter Lesley Clark, from McClatchy’s Washington, D.C., bureau.