Washington — For Susan Bro, mother of the woman killed at a rally organized by white supremacists, the president of the United States can offer no healing words.

She says the White House repeatedly tried to reach out to her on Wednesday, the day of Heather Heyer’s funeral. But she’s since watched President Donald Trump lay blame for the Charlottesville violence on “both sides.”

“You can’t wash this one away by shaking my hand and saying ‘I’m sorry,’ ” she said in a television interview on Friday.

In moments like this, of national crisis or tragedy, presidents typically shed their political skin, at least briefly. They use the broad appeal of the presidency to unite and soothe, urging citizens to remember their humanity, their common bonds as Americans.

George W. Bush famously climbed atop a pile of rubble in New York City to speak through a bullhorn after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Barack Obama sang “Amazing Grace” during the eulogy for a black pastor killed in a racially motivated shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.

Like no other president in recent history, Trump has struggled with this part of his duties.

He and his daughter Ivanka Trump quietly traveled Feb. 1 to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for the return of the remains of a U.S. Navy SEAL killed during a raid in Yemen, William “Ryan” Owens. But the grieving family members had mixed feelings.

“I told them I didn’t want to make a scene about it, but my conscience wouldn’t let me talk to him,” the sailor’s father, Bill Owens, later told The Miami Herald.

But at the end of the month, Ryan Owens’ widow, Carryn, attended Trump’s address to Congress and wept as the president thanked her and said, “Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity.”

Trump has shown his softer side at times. He explained that he had ordered a missile strike in Syria in part because of the images — “innocent babies, little babies” — he’d seen of the aftermath of a chemical attack that the U.S. concluded was the work of Syrian President Bashar Assad.


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