President Barack Obama was on Thursday set to visit Orlando to meet survivors and families of 49 people killed in the worst mass shooting in US history even as Democrats forced the Senate to consider legislation to keep guns out of the hands of terror suspects.
Obama, accompanied by vice-president Joe Biden, will travel to Orlando in the latest in a long list of trips he has made to console victims of mass shootings during his seven-and-half years in office.
“This will be, I think, an emotional trip,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “The president recognises that he is a symbol for the rest of the country. But it would be impossible for him not to be personally affected by these kinds of conversations.”
Obama recently met grieving families in December in San Bernardino, California, after a married couple inspired by the Islamic State killed 14 people. He has visited victims of mass shootings in Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Washington and South Carolina.
Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old US citizen born to Afghan immigrants, pledged allegiance to the IS during a three-hour rampage at the Pulse gay nightclub that killed 49 people on Sunday.
The FBI has interviewed Mateen’s second wife, Noor Salman, who knew of his plans, and prosecutors were preparing to present evidence against her to a federal grand jury.
The shooting renewed debate about gun control. Some Republicans, including presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump, suggested people on federal watch lists who are banned from flying on commercial jets should not be allowed to purchase firearms.
Senate Democrats claimed a small victory after Republicans in the US upper house agreed to hold votes on measures to expand background checks and prevent people on terror watch lists from buying guns.
Democrats stalled Senate proceedings to push for tougher gun control laws and spoke on the floor throughout the night. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy ended the blockade after nearly 15 hours.
Republicans, who have a majority in the Senate, have over the years blocked gun control measures, saying they step on the right to bear arms as guaranteed under the Constitution.
With Republicans and the National Rifle Association gun lobby under pressure to respond to the massacre, Trump said he will meet the NRA to discuss ways to block people on terrorism watch or no-fly lists from buying guns. Omar Mateen had been on such a list.
The initial shock over the deadliest mass shooting in recent history has given way to a vicious political brawl in Washington and on the campaign trail. A day after Obama criticised him for using the term “radical Islam”, Trump defended his stand and argued the phraseology makes a “big difference” in the war against terror.
“It makes a difference and it makes a big difference because unless you’re willing to discuss and talk about the real nature of the problem and the name of the problem, radical Islamic terrorism, you’re never going to solve the problem,” Trump told a campaign rally in Atlanta, Georgia.
“We’re trying to be nice. We have a President who wants to be so politically correct that he doesn’t want to use the term radical Islamic terrorism, doesn’t want to use it,” said Trump, known for his anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Trump also said his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton is blindly following Obama. “Then crooked Hillary Clinton gets up the other day, and she wouldn’t use the term…But I was hitting her hard on it. Very hard. And finally, she gets up and she said, ‘I would use it.’”
Since the shooting, Trump has expanded his call for temporarily barring foreign Muslims from entering the US and insinuated Obama sympathised with or even supported terrorists.