Obama, Biden pay respects in Orlando

49 slain inside Pulse nightclub

By Daniel Dahm - Digital Manager

ORLANDO, Fla. - President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden laid wreaths Thursday at a makeshift memorial to nightclub shooting victims in downtown Orlando.

Under rainy skies, the two walked slowly up to a sea of flowers, signs and American flags and kneeled low to place the white wreaths.

Obama and Biden were in Orlando on Thursday to meet with survivors and the families of victims slain the massacre at the Pulse nightclub.

In what's become a recurring tableau of his presidency, Obama was expected to meet with the parents, siblings and spouses of the 49 individuals who were shot to death at the gay club.

"This will be, I think, an emotional trip," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday.

Obama has traveled to the sites of at least nine mass shootings in the United States during his two terms, including three in the last year, to meet with families of the dead.

The Orlando shooting is unique, though, both in the scale of the tragedy -- the death toll makes it the worst mass shooting in U.S. history -- and the shooter's ties to global terror. Obama said this week the shooter had pledged allegiance to ISIS but didn't appear to be directed by the organization.

[VIDEO: Orlando nightclub shooting victim remembered]

It targeted a gay nightclub, with many of the victims gay and Latino. That has further escalated the debate following the attack, which has struck on a series of charged political and cultural flash-points of Obama-era America.

Biden joined Obama in Orlando to meet with the victims' families, the White House said Wednesday. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a former 2016 GOP presidential candidate, accompanied Obama on his flight in a demonstration of the President's interest to "show solidarity," according to the White House. Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, greeted Obama at airport, as did several other local officials. Obama called the governor Wednesday.

In the city, Obama planned to visit survivors of the terrorist attack, many of whom suffered serious injuries but emerged from the massacre alive. The President was also expected to meet with some of the first responders, nurses and doctors who treated the wounded, too.

[VIDEO: Group from UCF gives hugs in Orlando]

Obama delivered brief remarks Thursday afternoon to reporters and to "make clear that the country stands with the people of Orlando, stands with the LGBT community in Orlando as they grieve for their loss," according to Earnest.

Obama has described the private moments meeting with grieving families as some of the most wrenching of his tenure, a job his aides say requires him to draw on his religious faith.

In the last 12 months, Obama has met with victims' families in Charleston, South Carolina; Roseburg, Oregon; and San Bernardino, California. He's also traveled to Arizona, Texas, Colorado, Connecticut and the Washington Navy Yard during his presidency to mourn with families who lost loved ones in shootings.

"The President's life has been personally touched by his interactions with people who have endured terrible tragedy," Earnest said Wednesday. "But it would be impossible for him to not be personally affected by these kinds of conversations and these kinds of interactions."

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