LAS VEGAS — President Trump comforted the victims of Sunday’s deadly mass shooting and paid tribute to those who tended to them, taking up on Wednesday a harrowing duty of the modern presidency that has nevertheless become numbing in its regularity.
After touring the wreckage of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico a day earlier, a somber Mr. Trump headed to Las Vegas, where 58 people were slain by an assailant raining bullets into a crowded country music festival from the blown-out window of his hotel room high above them.
“What I saw today is just an incredible tribute to professionalism, and what they have done is incredible. And you never want to see it again,” Mr. Trump said, after spending about an hour talking to patients in the trauma center of a Las Vegas hospital that received 100 people in the hours after the shooting.
“We met patients that were absolutely, terribly wounded,” the president added. “And the doctors, the nurses, all of the people at hospital, have done a job that is indescribable.”
In a four-hour visit to this bereaved city, Mr. Trump and the first lady, Melania, also toured the operations center of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, which coordinated the response to the shooting. On one wall hung a poster with an aerial view of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, where the gunman perched, and the site of the music festival below it.
“This is a rough time,” Mr. Trump told the assembled police officers, some of whom risked gunfire to direct the concertgoers toward safety. “But if you didn’t get up there so quickly, it could have been worse — a lot worse.”
The president referred to the gunman, Stephen C. Paddock, who killed himself in his hotel room before the police burst in on him, as “a sick, demented man.” He asked Sheriff Joseph Lombardo of Clark County if investigators had any new information on Mr. Paddock. The sheriff demurred in front of cameras, but said that the police were following several leads.
“There might be something there,” Mr. Trump replied. “Wires are screwed up, but there might be something there.”
As the president was flying to Las Vegas, tensions inside his administration erupted back in Washington. On Air Force One, televisions displayed Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson’s statement denying an NBC News report that he had been talked out of resigning by Vice President Mike Pence, and refusing to comment on whether he had called Mr. Trump a “moron.”
At the hospital, the president dismissed the report as “fake news” and a “made-up story.” He said he was honored by Mr. Tillerson’s statement, adding, “I have total confidence in Rex.” Earlier, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, declined to say whether the secretary of state had been instructed by the White House to deliver his statement.
Mr. Trump has been uncharacteristically subdued about the Las Vegas shooting, one of the deadliest in American history. He has tweeted little about it and deflected questions about the killer’s motives, in contrast to previous mass shootings, which have drawn quick, furious reactions from him, particularly when the attackers were Muslim.
With no evidence yet linking Mr. Paddock to militant Islamic groups, the Las Vegas attack appears unlike those in Orlando, Fla., or San Bernardino, Calif., both of which Mr. Trump seized on, as a candidate, to justify his ban on people from predominantly Muslim countries. He also used those earlier shootings to highlight the scourge of what he labels “radical Islamic terror.”
For Mr. Trump, the political subtext of Las Vegas has more to do with gun control laws, which he campaigned against in 2016. On Wednesday, the president said this was not the moment to talk about new legislation, but a day earlier, he said, “We’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes by.”
That appeared to open the door at least a crack — enough to rattle opponents of gun control. Breitbart News, the far-right website run by Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, said that his political base would not tolerate the president softening his line on gun rights.
Mr. Bannon had told colleagues that he planned to keep Mr. Trump “under a microscope” while he was in Las Vegas to make sure he did not signal any further flexibility on gun legislation.
Mr. Trump remained on familiar ground on Wednesday by focusing on the police and other law enforcement officials, whom he has repeatedly praised for quickly tracking down Mr. Paddock in his room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay.
But he also played what, for him, is a less comfortable role: that of the nation’s chief consoler. In reacting to other tragedies, Mr. Trump has struggled to convey empathy — defaulting to anger at the assailants, or, as in the case of the recent hurricanes, praise for his government’s response.
On Tuesday in Puerto Rico, Mr. Trump delivered huzzahs for the military, his cabinet and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But his interactions with storm survivors were an awkward mix of campaign-style high jinks. At one point, the president tossed rolls of paper towels into a crowd, and he also told officials of Puerto Rico’s debt-ridden administration that they have “thrown our budget a little out of whack.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Trump stuck to a presidential script in speaking about Las Vegas. Standing alongside Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada and other state and local officials, Mr. Trump recounted stories of individual heroism by police officers. He appealed to the nation, as he had in a statement on Monday, to seek love over hate.
“Our souls are stricken with grief for every American who lost a husband or a wife, a mother or a father, a son or a daughter,” Mr. Trump declared, speaking from a prepared text. But, he added, “We cannot be defined by the evil that threatens us or the violence that incites such terror.”
“In the darkest moments,” he said, “what shines most brightly is the goodness that thrives in the hearts of our people.”
It is not a reflexive message for a president who has often exploited divisions in American society. After previous shootings, Mr. Trump zeroed in on the role of Muslims, or accused opponents like Hillary Clinton of advocating wide-open immigration policies.
Still, presidents with different politics and temperaments have also struggled with how to respond to mass shootings. Mr. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, wept when he spoke of the 2012 slaughter of children at a Connecticut elementary school, and he sang the hymn “Amazing Grace” when he eulogized the black parishioners gunned down in 2015 in a church in Charleston, S.C.
After Congress failed to enact legislation in the aftermath of the shootings in Newtown, Conn., Mr. Obama shed tears again — this time in anger at a political establishment he said was in thrall to the National Rifle Association.
But late in his presidency, after police officers were shot in Dallas, a weary Mr. Obama spoke of feeling that he had run out of words to adequately express either sorrow or resolve in the face of such relentless violence.
If anything, gun control laws currently are even more elusive. That leaves Mr. Trump with the unenviable prospect of more hospital visits and memorial services.