Pittsburgh • President Trump plans to visit this city Tuesday despite pleas from the mayor and some Jewish leaders that he stay away — and accusations that he and his administration have fueled anti-Semitism through their rhetoric, both before and after Saturday’s massacre inside a synagogue.
The president and first lady Melania Trump are scheduled to arrive here in the late afternoon, several hours after the first funerals are held for the 11 victims of the mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue.
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who has called out “hate” in U.S. political speech since some of his congregants were gunned down, nevertheless planned to welcome the president. The gunman charged in the case is an avowed anti-Semite.
"Hate is not political. It is not blue or red, it's not male or female, it doesn't know any of those divisions," Myers told The Washington Post on Monday.
However, Tree of Life’s former rabbi, Chuck Diamond, told the Daily Beast that Trump’s rhetoric was “awful.” Like Pittsburgh Democratic Mayor Bill Peduto, Diamond asked the president to postpone his trip until the community has finished mourning.
"I would plead with the president to wait," Diamond said. "I also hope he would come in and offer his condolences after we have buried them and had a chance to mourn."
Funerals are scheduled to run at least through Friday.
Tens of thousands of people have signed an open letter published by a progressive Jewish organization, Bend the Arc, saying that Trump would not be welcome unless he denounced white nationalism and stopped “targeting” minorities in his rhetoric and policies.
"For the past three years your words and your policies have emboldened a growing white nationalist movement," the letter says. "You yourself called the murderer evil, but yesterday's violence is the direct culmination of your influence."
The White House woke up to a new furor on Tuesday morning, as video spread virally from a Monday evening rally in which Vice President Mike Pence prayed for the synagogue’s victims with a rabbi from a “Messianic synagogue” — a movement condemned by Jewish leaders as Christian evangelism in disguise.
A Pence aide told The Post that Rabbi Loren Jacobs was invited to the Michigan rally by Lena Epstein, a Republican congressional candidate, and said Pence did not know who the religious leader was when he called him onstage "to deliver a message of unity."
As The Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker reported, Jacobs invoked “Jesus the Messiah” and “Savior Yeshua” — another name for Jesus — at the rally as he offered a prayer for the dead and wounded in Pittsburgh. “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, God and Father of my Lord and Savior Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah, and my God and Father, too,” he intoned.
The first funeral — of two brothers, Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal, 54, who had gone to Tree of Life synagogue since they were young boys — is expected to take place Tuesday. Peduto asked the White House to consider “the will of the families” before deciding to visit and to contact them to see “if they want the president to be here.”
The man accused in the attack — the deadliest on Jews in American history — made his first court appearance Monday, two days after the massacre. Robert Bowers, a 46-year-old truck driver, was using a wheelchair in federal court because of injuries he sustained in a gun battle with police at the synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood. He allegedly told authorities upon his arrest that he was seeking to kill Jews, and repeated that pronouncement when he arrived in the emergency room at Allegheny General Hospital, where some of the doctors and nurses who treated him were Jewish.
Magistrate Judge Robert C. Mitchell read the charges against Bowers, including obstruction of exercise of religious belief resulting in death. Bowers, dressed in a blue sweatshirt and gray sweatpants, appeared coherent and alert. He said little, answering "yes" when the judge asked whether he had requested a public defender because he could not afford an attorney. He was being held without bail.
It did not appear that Bowers had any friends or family members present at the courthouse. The federal public defender's office did not respond to requests for comment about the case.
One person who did attend the hearing was Jon Pushinsky, 64, a member of one of the congregations that meets at Tree of Life. "It was important to be here to show our congregation remains strong and will stand up, even in the face of evil," Pushinsky said.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced Monday that Trump and the first lady planned to visit Pittsburgh to "express the support of the American people and grieve with the Pittsburgh community."
White House officials had said earlier in the day that they were pushing the president to cancel a potential speech Tuesday on immigration and visit this city instead. The president, who has four "Make America Great Again" rallies scheduled this week, is clamoring to get back on the campaign trail, they said.
Critics of Trump have said that his incendiary rhetoric has contributed to a rise in extremism and could be perceived by radicals as a green light for violence. Last week, a South Florida man who has been a fervent Trump supporter, Cesar Sayoc, was charged with mailing more than a dozen pipe bombs to people and organizations that Trump has criticized.
But Trump on Monday blamed the news media — which he again described in a tweet as “the true Enemy of the People” — for the divisions in U.S. society. Sanders echoed that during a testy White House news briefing.
Selk and Berman reported from Washington. The Washington Post’s Kayla Epstein in Pittsburgh and Alice Crites, Julie Tate, Joel Achenbach, Isaac Stanley-Becker, Amy B Wang, Annie Gowen, Felicia Sonmez, Sari Horwitz and Aaron C. Davis in Washington contributed to this report.