Trump boasts of rally crowd size during shooting hospital visit





Washington (AFP) - President Donald Trump had an unusual idea for raising the morale of medical staff recovering from last weekend's mass shooting in Texas: boast to them about the size of his campaign rally in the city.

Footage of Trump bragging at the University Medical Center in El Paso on Wednesday surfaced Thursday, adding to the controversy surrounding what was meant to have been a politically healing trip.

It also came amid a backlash against the Equinox gyms empire after its billionaire owner Stephen Ross organized a fund raiser for Trump's reelection in which supporters will pay as much as $250,000 to attend on Friday.

In the hospital clip, which was shot by a bystander and aired on KFOX14 television, a jovial Trump is seen praising medical staff at the hospital, telling them "they're talking about you all over the world."

But he then starts reminiscing about a reelection campaign rally he held in El Paso in February and ridicules Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke, who is from the border city, and who held a counter-rally the same day.

"That was some crowd," Trump says of his event, claiming there were also "twice as many outside" his arena.

"Crazy" O'Rourke, the president then says scornfully, "had like 400 people in a parking lot."

The issue of who had the bigger crowd on that February day has been a frequent matter of concern for Trump.

- Opponents exercised over fundraiser -

Critics piled onto the president after Wednesday's trip to El Paso, where 22 people were shot dead, and to Dayton, Ohio, where nine were killed, accusing him of using victims and first responders as backdrops for his self-promotion.

The White House described Trump's trip, which took place mostly behind closed doors, as a bid to console survivors and emergency workers in the two cities.

However, the event was marred by street protests against Trump, as well as his decision to attack Democratic opponents throughout the day on Twitter and during his few public comments.

White House officials said journalists were mostly kept away from Trump because they didn't want to treat the hospital visits as "photo-ops."

However, Trump and his press team quickly released their own official pictures of him grinning and giving the thumbs up with staff and patients.

The White House also released a campaign-style short video, set to dramatic music, that focuses almost entirely on Trump shaking hands with groups of people in the hospitals or posing for pictures with onlookers.

Debate also brewed ahead of Friday's fundraiser in the Hamptons, near New York, where The Washington Post reported that attendees will pay $250,000 for lunch, a photo and a round table discussion with the president. Without the round table, tickets still cost $100,000, the Post reported.

Some users of the popular Equinox gym chain and the associated SoulCycle have objected to Ross' backing for Trump.

Model Chrissy Teigen was one of several left-leaning celebrities who took to social media to urge boycotts. "You can come to my house and workout," she said.

Equinox and SoulCycle issued a statement saying that the companies had nothing to do with the event.

"No company profits are used to fund politicians... We believe in tolerance and equality, and will always stay true to those values," the statement said, noting that Ross was "a passive investor and is not involved in the management of either business."

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