Fresh off a trip to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, President Trump sets off for Las Vegas on Wednesday to confront another national crisis.
A dramatic series of domestic disasters are suddenly testing his presidency in new ways.
The shooting at a country music festival along the Las Vegas Strip on Sunday evening – the largest mass shooting in American history – has rocked a nation already reeling from a trio of historically-proportioned hurricanes. Trump spent Tuesday demonstrating his engagement with federal efforts to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria, which made landfall on the island last month as a Category 5 storm.
But the president will face higher stakes and rawer emotions when he arrives in Las Vegas on Wednesday to meet with first responders and the families of victims.
And his critics will continue to pressure the White House into taking a stance in the gun control debate despite the lack of public evidence as to how this week's attack unfolded.
"The president's trip isn't and shouldn't be about gun control," former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told the Washington Examiner. "It's about the victims, and it's stunning that several Dems and media blowholes started screaming ‘gun control' before the bodies had even been cleared off the streets."
Indeed, Democrats reprised arguments in favor of tighter restrictions on firearm purchases and registrations in the wake of the Las Vegas attack, which introduced a number of relatively obscure gun safety issues into the national debate.
Because police only located the suspected shooter, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, by following the sounds his shots made as he showered the Route 91 Harvest Festival's audience with bullets from his high-rise hotel room at the nearby Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, gun control advocates have seized on pending GOP legislation that would lift some restrictions on suppressors. Prominent Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, have called for opposition to the suppressor bill this week. Other lawmakers have discussed proposals that would ban or regulate hardware some gun owners may use illegally to transform their semi-automatic weapons into automatic guns, which were virtually outlawed in 1986.
Trump has so far avoided the emotional conversation surrounding the Second Amendment, instead appealing to a sense of national unity and eschewing politics in favor of solemnity.
"In Las Vegas, Donald Trump has one task – and only one. His job is to represent the entire country as our head of state, not one faction as head of government or head of his party," said Charles Lipson, a political science professor at the University of Chicago.
"There are other times to butt heads with rivals over gun control and the Second Amendment. Not here," Lipson added.
The White House's ability to remain agnostic in the gun control debate will likely depend on the pace at which investigators uncover Paddock's motives and methods. Authorities had revealed little by Tuesday evening about why the suspected shooter decided to execute such an elaborate attack and how he was able to obtain the nearly two dozen firearms police found stashed in his Mandalay Bay suite.
Once the details of Paddock's path to gun ownership come to light, however, Trump may find neutrality difficult.
And the mounting criticism of his refusal to speak out about gun safety could draw the president into a fight with his detractors that would ultimately undermine the somber purpose of his journey to Las Vegas.
David Hopkins, a political science professor at Boston College, said Trump has turned the spotlight back on himself at similarly high-profile points in his presidency.
"Trump has a tendency to make these events and moments about himself, attacking his perceived critics and patting himself on the back for his own claimed accomplishments, but that instinct makes it more difficult for him to appeal to a shared sense of national community," Hopkins said. "But if he moves beyond his own grievances and directs the focus to the victims and their families, he has an opportunity to live up to the standard set by his predecessors in the office."
Trump's decision to wage a public war of words with the mayor of San Juan in recent days complicated his administration's efforts to convince skeptics that Puerto Rico remained a high priority despite the island's slow recovery.
Trump drew fire for his unscripted remarks Tuesday in San Juan, where he met with federal and local officials to receive a briefing on the relief effort and passed out household supplies to survivors of Hurricane Maria.
After quipping that Puerto Rico's recovery needs had "thrown our budget a little out of whack," Trump congratulated the island nation on its death toll of 16, noting far fewer people had lost their lives in the wake of Maria than in "a real catastrophe like Katrina."
Andrew Feldman, a Democratic strategist, suggested Las Vegas could test whether Trump has the capacity to rise above the brash candor that lit up the campaign trail but has since served as an impediment to governing.
"What has been missing, apart from – forget about policy, forget about, really, any of the politics – but what has been missing from his presidency is his ability to be presidential," Feldman said "You look at the remarks that he made after Charlottesville, another time where the country was struggling. And I think we cannot afford another Charlottesville right now."
Feldman was referring to Trump's widely condemned response to violence in Charlottesville, Va. in August, when a woman protesting a white supremacist rally was killed by a neo-Nazi sympathizer in violence that broke out between counter-demonstrating factions.
Trump's racially insensitive comments about the Charlottesville riot marked what many consider to be the lowest point of an already tumultous presidency.
"I really hope he doesn't, you know, make any sort of outrageous statements or pull something off-script that could really affect the message of the day," Feldman said. "There is definitely fear in my head that he is not going to think with sensitivity and say something outlandish that creates, sparks outrage, and I think that is a fear with this president every single time he speaks."