He also said there is “no political appetite” for an assault-weapons ban, but a new poll found that 69 percent of voters, including more than half of Republicans, support such restrictions.
By QUINT FORGEY
08/07/2019 10:46 AM EDT
Updated 08/07/2019 07:06 PM EDT
President Donald Trump on Wednesday reasserted his support for changes to laws governing background checks even as Republicans in Congress eye other gun legislation, casting doubt on whether Washington can unite around any policy response to a pair of mass shootings over the weekend.
The president also dismissed calls to restrict sales of assault rifles, even as Democrats called for bans on the military-style weapons — and a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll found that most voters support such restrictions — in the wake of the attacks in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left at least 31 people dead and dozens more injured.Story Continued Below
“I can tell you that there is no political appetite for that at this moment,” Trump told reporters outside the White House of assault weapons restrictions, adding that he “will certainly bring that up” in talks with lawmakers on gun reform measures in the coming days.
“There is a great appetite, and I mean a very strong appetite, for background checks. And I think we can bring up background checks like we’ve never had before,” Trump said. “I think both Republican[s] and Democrat[s] are getting close to a bill on, to doing something with background checks.”
Despite Trump’s predictions for an imminent deal on background checks, the prospects for such legislation on Capitol Hill appear dim. Republican lawmakers are more focused on passing “red-flag” legislation — which lets police confiscate firearms from people deemed a danger to themselves or others — such as the proposal Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has pledged to introduce.
Universal background checks, a policy that all Democratic presidential candidates support, enjoy widespread public support; more than 90 percent of voters in the POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released Wednesday said they would be in favor of requiring such checks for gun sales.
The party’s 24 White House contenders also support an assault-weapons ban, with some calling for a voluntary or mandatory federal buyback program to keep the military-style rifles off the street. The new poll found that 69 percent of voters support banning assault-style weapons, including more than half of Republican voters.
The president’s remarks Wednesday came as he and first lady Melania Trump departed for Dayton and El Paso to visit first responders, law enforcement and victims in the two communities.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said that in Dayton, Trump visited several patients and first responders at a hospital. She said there was no discussion of gun control.
But Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who was among the delegation of congressional lawmakers and state officials greeting Trump in Ohio, said he urged the president to embrace tougher reforms, including a prohibition on the sale of assault weapons.
“If the president tells the Congress, ‘Pass an assault weapon ban,’ if the president says, ‘Pass legislation for universal background checks,’ the Republican Congress and the Senate will move on it, and the House will undoubtedly move on it,” Brown said. “We can do that.”
FBI Director Chris Wray briefed Republican senators and House Democrats about the shooting during a phone call on Wednesday, according to aides.
Trump had suggested in tweets Monday morning “perhaps marrying” background check legislation to immigration reform. But he appeared to retreat from that potential compromise — which would have been difficult to achieve, given Democrats’ opposition to his immigration ideas — three hours later in a televised address, instead calling for the implementation of “red flag” laws to confiscate weapons from “those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety.”
House Democrats approved a bill in February with some Republican support mandating federal criminal background checks on all gun sales, which Trump previously vowed to veto if it reached his desk.
Democratic lawmakers in recent days have urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to take up the measure, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday warned Democrats would push to require that any “red flag” legislation that comes to the Senate floor be paired with a vote on the House background checks bill.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday in a letter to her caucus that 214 House Democrats had written to McConnell urging him to bring the House background checks legislation up for a vote.
Despite the apparent gridlock, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) appeared optimistic Wednesday that Trump’s calls for background checks could provide momentum to his bill with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). The Manchin-Toomey proposal would expand background checks to all commercial sales, which most Senate Republicans oppose.
Manchin said he spoke with Trump on Monday and Tuesday and was “encouraged” by their conversation. He added that he could see Trump supporting his legislation, which could be enough to give it momentum in the Senate.
“It’s something I think he would support, and if he does, I think that’s a whole game changer,” Manchin said.
Marianne LeVine and Heather Caygle contributed to this report.
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