The president also reported Mitch McConnell is ‘totally on board’ with background check legislation.
By QUINT FORGEY
08/09/2019 08:59 AM EDT
Updated 08/09/2019 12:52 PM EDT
President Donald Trump on Friday expressed optimism that he will secure bipartisan consensus on “meaningful background checks” and other gun reform measures despite staunch opposition from the National Rifle Association and years of federal inaction on the deeply divisive issue.
In early morning tweets, the president said he has spoken in recent days with NRA officials to ensure their interests are “fully represented and respected” during negotiations on firearm legislation following two mass shootings over the weekend.Story Continued Below
But Trump also suggested resistance from the powerful lobby would not slow his push to “get something really good done” to curb gun violence in America.
“Look, the NRA has over the years taken a very, very tough stance on everything, and I understand it. You know, it’s a slippery slope,” Trump told reporters later in the morning outside the White House.
“They think you approve one thing and that leads to a lot of bad things. I don’t agree with that,” he said. “I think we can do meaningful, very meaningful background checks. I want to see it happen.”
The president Friday morning wrote online that “serious discussions are taking place between House and Senate leadership on meaningful Background Checks,” and confirmed he has “also been speaking to the NRA, and others, so that their very strong views can be fully represented and respected.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday urged Trump to use his Constitutional authority to call the Senate into session so the chamber can take up gun control legislation approved by House Democratic lawmakers, including a bill passed in February mandating federal criminal background checks on all gun sales.
“This extraordinary moment in our history requires all of us to take extraordinary action to save lives,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to the president.
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Trump called Pelosi later Thursday to discuss the universal background check bill, and also spoke with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “The President gave us his assurances that he would review the bipartisan House-passed legislation and understood our interest in moving as quickly as possible to help save lives,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement.
Though Trump said Friday he “had a great talk” with the two Democratic leaders, the president predicted he would not compel lawmakers to return to Washington from their August recess.
“I don’t think we’ll need to call them back,” he said. “I think we’ll have a very good package by the time they come back, and they can start debating and voting on it then.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday said strengthening background checks and “red flag” laws will “lead the discussion” in upcoming gun reform talks, but declined to immediately summon senators back to Capitol Hill.
“If we did that, we’d just have people scoring points and nothing would happen,” McConnell told a Kentucky news radio show, after speaking with the president Thursday morning. “There has to be a bipartisan discussion here of what we can agree on. If we do it prematurely it will just be another frustrating experience for all of us and for the public.”
Trump on Friday claimed McConnell gave his blessing to background check legislation during their conversation the previous day. “He’s totally on board. He said, ‘I’ve been waiting for your call.’ He is totally on board,” the president said, adding the issue “isn’t a question of NRA, Republican or Democrat.”
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), however, voiced skepticism that the chamber’s GOP members would support expanded background checks, and the third-ranking Senate Republican also said he had “a lot of concerns” about “red flag” laws.
Congressional Democrats have implored Trump and Senate Republicans to back the House’s background check measure — which the president previously vowed to veto — as well as consider an assault weapons ban.
Trump on Wednesday projected hope for changes to laws governing gun background checks, but insisted there exists “no political appetite” for restrictions on the sale of assault rifles.
“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,” he said. “I think both Republican[s] and Democrat[s] are getting close to a bill on, to doing something with background checks.”
NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre warned Trump in a phone conversation Tuesday that a background check bill would not be popular among the president’s supporters, The Washington Post reported, and the two men shared several more calls Wednesday.
LaPierre said in a statement Thursday the NRA “opposes any legislation that unfairly infringes upon the rights of law-abiding citizens,” adding that “many proposals are nothing more than ‘soundbite solutions.’”
Trump on Friday said he “had a good talk” with LaPierre, and asserted the NRA’s endorsement of his 2016 presidential candidacy “paid off” following the confirmation of conservative judges Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
“They’re big believers in the Second Amendment, which Wayne is also and which I am. I mean, there has been no president that feels more strongly about the Second Amendment than I do,” Trump said.
“However, we need meaningful background checks so that sick people don’t get guns,” the president continued. “I think, in the end, Wayne and the NRA will either be there or maybe will be a little bit more neutral. And that would be OK, too.
Appeals for legislative action come after a gunman in El Paso, Texas, murdered 22 people Saturday morning at a Walmart in the southern border town. Within 13 hours of that attack, a gunman in Dayton, Ohio, murdered nine people early Sunday morning before he was shot and killed by police.
Trump on Monday morning recommended in tweets “perhaps marrying” background check legislation to immigration reform. But he appeared to retreat from that suggestion three hours later in a televised address, instead advocating for the implementation of “red flag” laws to confiscate weapons from “those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety.”
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