WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump endorsed legislative solutions to gun violence Wednesday, urging lawmakers to take bipartisan actions on gun control that have long been opposed by the majority of his party and the National Rifle Association.
In an hour-long televised meeting at the White House with a group of Democratic and Republican members of Congress, Trump said he would issue an executive order to ban so-called “bump stocks” and called on Congress to raise the age limit to buy semi-automatic weapons, set up stronger background checks that screen for mental illness and affiliation with terrorist groups, two measures that the NRA has opposed. He also called for increased school security, a move accepted by the NRA.
Trump played the role of “dealmaker” Wednesday, willing to negotiate away from party orthodoxy. While Republicans on Capitol Hill are feeling new pressure to take some action on gun control, Democrats are focused on broad legislation, and fear that temporary fixes proposed by Republicans could defer real progress.
Trump’s apparent shift on the issue drew fire from the right wing, who favor concealed carry reciprocity measures. That policy was proposed by Republicans as a temporary fix, and would allow anyone who can carry a concealed gun in one state to carry a concealed gun in another. But Trump said they amounted to a poison pill, and would hold up Congress from tackling gun violence with a broader set of solutions.
Trump sparred with with some members, like Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. After he mentioned that the President’s proposed age limit was not included in the draft of a background check bill he had authored with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Trump responded: “You know why? Because you’re afraid of the NRA.”
He asked the members of Congress to work together to write single comprehensive bill that could earn the 60 votes needed to block a Senate filibuster. But Democrats and Republicans still diverged on the shape that legislation should take.
Republican Senators like Marco Rubio of Florida said Congress should add measures to the drafted Fix NICS (National Instant Background Check System) Act, while Democrats, along with Toomey, looked to push forward with the Manchin-Toomey background check bill, which fell six votes shy of passing the Senate in 2013. That legislation would impose strict background checks, but allow exceptions for guns sold between friends and family.
Trump criticized President Obama for inaction following the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., saying he was too soft on gun legislation. Some members of Congress said action wasn’t feasible under a Democratic administration, and that Second Amendment advocates would be more accepting of gun regulations backed by Trump.
“Well, and in all fairness, this is a bill that basically, with your support, it would pass,” Manchin said to Trump about the 2013 background check bill.
When Vice President Mike Pence suggested “red flag” laws used in states like California and Oregon, where family members can file for court orders to remove a dangerous person’s weapons, the president suggested an even stricter approach. “Take the guns first,” Trump said, “go through due process second.”
The president’s aggressive stance on legislation shocked his party. “We’re not ditching any constitutional protections simply because the last person the president talked to today doesn’t like them,” Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, said in a statement.
Trump’s tone shifted from the speech he delivered at the Conservative Political Action Conference over the weekend, where the president pushed for more guns on school grounds and in teachers’ hands to deter potential shooters.
After the televised meeting, NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch declined to criticize the president, but said lawmakers should work on making school more secure, not restrict the constitutional right of gun ownership. Trump said he encouraged the organization’s leadership to accept pieces of the bill, like background checks, at a lunch over the weekend.
Democrats like Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut were wary of Trump’s promise for swift action on such a polarizing issue. While Trump drank in the attention that his bold approach drew at the meeting Wednesday, there’s no promise of follow-through.
“The White House can now launch a lobbying campaign to get universal background checks passed, as the president promised in this meeting, or they can sit and do nothing,” Murphy said.
Trump hosted a similar meeting last month when he invited lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to share their positions on the contentious immigration issue. During that meeting, Trump suggested he would sign whatever solution was sent to his desk, signaling support for both comprehensive immigration reform and more of a quick fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program set to expire in March. But without any deadline, Congress has failed to take concrete action on immigration since the meeting. Immigration received only one passing reference at Tuesday morning’s House Republican briefing, while there was no talk of immigration at a weekly briefing with Senate Republicans later in the day.
While liberals worried that such a twist would occur again, some conservatives actively reassured one another that on gun policy Trump’s zigging and zagging would play out in the same way.
Folks, we saw this with DACA & healthcare. Trump knows the cameras are on, he’s meeting with all sides, letting everyone speak, but he is not abandoning us on guns.
We’ve seen this time and time again, Trump brings the democrats in and plays the hell out them each & every time.
— Mike (@mike_Zollo) February 28, 2018
The invited lawmakers also included Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy, Amy Klobuchar, and Dianne Feinstein, and Republican Sens. Steve Saines, Orrin Hatch, John Cornyn and Charles Grassley. House members included Democratic Reps. Ted Deutch, Elizabeth Esty, Stephanie Murphy, and Republican Reps. Marsha Blackburn, Brian Mast, and John Rutherford.