Families, politicians shun Donald Trump’s Pittsburgh visit while funerals take place

U.S. President Donald Trump is heading to Pittsburgh, Pa., on Tuesday — despite widespread advice not to go.

Trump, along with his wife Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, are expected to visit survivors of the shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue.

Eleven people were killed and six others injured during the mass shooting, which ended with a police shootout that injured the gunman.

The death toll includes a set of brothers, a husband and wife, professors, dentists and a physician. The first funerals of the victims start on Tuesday, and will continue until Friday.

Stephen Halle, a nephew of victim Daniel Stien, declined a meeting with Trump due to his “inappropriate” reaction to the shooting — specifically Trump’s call to have armed guards at the synagogue. Stien’s funeral is scheduled for Tuesday.

“Everybody feels that they were inappropriate,” Halle told the Washington Post.

“A church, a synagogue, should not be a fortress. It should be an open welcoming place to feel safe.”

Shooting survivor Barry Werber wasn’t keen on a visit from a president who has embraced the politically fraught term “nationalist.” Some have accused the president of helping to create the corrosive political atmosphere that may have led to the violence.

“He’s calling himself a nationalist. The last political group that I heard had called themselves nationalists were the Nazis,” Werber, 76, told the Associated Press.

Other politicians on both sides of the political spectrum have reportedly declined invitations to visit Pittsburgh with Trump, including Sen. Mitch McConnell, Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, according to CNN and the Washington Post.

Pittsburgh’s mayor Bill Peduto said Trump should wait until the funerals are complete before visiting the city.

“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 Monday night. “Our attention and our focus is going to be on them, and we don’t have public safety that we can take away from what is needed in order to do both.”

More than 70,000 people have signed an open letter to Trump from the leaders of a Pittsburgh-based Jewish group who say the president will not be welcome in the city unless he denounces white nationalism and stops “targeting” minorities.

But Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who was conducting Sabbath services at the Tree of Life synagogue when the shooter opened fire, made clear the president would be welcome, telling CNN: “The president of the United States is always welcome. I am a citizen. He is my president. He is certainly welcome.”

Trump himself said he was going to use the visit to pay respects to the victims.

“Well, I’m just going to pay my respects,” Trump told Fox News Channel’s Laura Ingraham Monday night. “I’m also going to the hospital to see the officers and some of the people that were so badly hurt.”

Shulamit Bastacky, 77, a Holocaust survivor and neighbour of victim Melvin Wax, expressed hope that fraught political issues and protests would not overshadow the remembrances.

“This is not the place to do it,” she said. “You can do the political part everywhere else. Not at this time. This would be like desecrating those people who were killed. They were murdered because they were Jews.”

“You can protest later on,” she added. “To me, it’s sacred what happened here.”

— with files from the Associated Press

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