'Start Here': Trump blasts Democrats, defends rhetoric during El Paso, Dayton visits

Here's what you need to know to start your day.

August 8, 2019, 6:49 AM

It's Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019. Let's start here.

1. 'Politicking'

"I would like to stay out of the political fray," President Donald Trump told reporters on Wednesday before meeting with shooting victims in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

But the president jumped into the political spotlight as he blasted local Democratic officials who confronted him on gun reform, accusing Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley of being "very dishonest people" and "politicking" after the pair held a press conference following their meeting with Trump.

In brief remarks in El Paso, Trump also thanked first responders and praised the "love and respect for the office of the presidency" he experienced during his visit.

Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, decided against being a part of the welcoming delegation for the president. Escobar, who's criticized Trump's anti-immigrant language, tells "Start Here" she didn't meet with Trump because there wouldn't be any time for "meaningful dialogue" to discuss his rhetoric and gun reform.

"This moment," Escobar says, "merits more than just a drop-in at various sites."

2. 'Wasn't a political motivation'

The president defended his rhetoric on race and immigration, telling reporters it "brings people together," and denied it had anything to do with the violence, but then pivoted to the Dayton shooter's alleged self-description as “leftist."

"This person supported Bernie Sanders, Antifa and Elizabeth Warren, I understand -- nothing to do with President Trump," he said on Wednesday.

Authorities still have not determined the motive behind the Dayton shooting, but experts analyzing what is believed to be the gunman's social media posts told ABC News his political views were not a factor.

"In Ohio, the Dayton suspect may have searched for Antifa, or for Bernie Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren, but the profile that we're getting from our law enforcement sources is that it wasn't a political motivation," ABC News Senior Investigative Reporter Aaron Katersky says.

Authorities retrieve evidence markers at the scene of a mass shooting, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio.
John Minchillo/AP

3. 'Signal'

An estimated 680 undocumented immigrants were arrested at food-processing plants in Mississippi on Wednesday, according to immigration officials.

The operation occurred across six cities and involved more than 600 agents at seven different work sites. Officials said it was the largest single-state enforcement in history.

"The arrests today were the results of a year-long criminal investigation, and the arrests and warrants that were executed today are just another step in that investigation," Matthew Albence, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Wednesday.

One immigration expert told ABC News' Sophie Tatum the raids "could be a signal of what is to come" as the Trump administration ramps up its crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

4. 3rd time's the charm

Puerto Rico has had its third leadership change in less than a week.

Wanda Vazquez, the island's justice secretary, was sworn in as governor by the Supreme Court on Wednesday, despite previously saying she didn't have an interest in the job.

The U.S. territory was rocked by massive protests over the past month after leaked text messages purported to show former Gov. Ricardo Rossello and his staff making homophobic and sexists comments about opponents and critics, prompting his resignation.

Now Vazquez is facing a multitude of challenges put aside during the scandal, including the debt crisis and remaining damage from Hurricane Maria, says ABC News' Joshua Hoyos.

"The big problem through this entire saga," Hoyos says on the podcast, "has been the work of the government hasn't been at the forefront of what politicians were doing."

Governor Ricardo Rossello meeting with Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez regarding transition on July 26.

"Start Here," ABC News' flagship podcast, offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or the ABC News app. Follow @StartHereABC on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for exclusive content and show updates.


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Doff your cap:

Bravo to Florida for unveiling the nation's first underwater memorial to U.S. veterans.

The nation's first-of-its-kind underwater dive memorial honoring American veterans opened in Clearwater, Fla., Aug. 5, 2019.
Rebecca Hurley via Circle of Heroes

The monuments, about 40 feet below the surface and 10 miles off the coast of Clearwater, also will serve as an artificial reef, helping to sustain marine life.

It's a win for the fish. And a win for America.