2019-08-09 18:44:551 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
Donald Trump is between a rock and a hard place. He has often stated that he agreed with the need for background checks for gun sales, to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, but that's against what the National Rifle Association wants.
He's heading into his reelection campaign and won't get anywhere if he loses his base. He needs to keep them and gain other support as well. So he's trying to back policies to attract others while maintaining his base, but that's hard to do with the issue of gun control, especially if he loses the support of the NRA.
The Democrats have been supporting legislation for background checks as well as an assault-rifle ban. Trump has said he doesn't think he can get support for that, but he does believe he can get support for background checks.
He has privately told lawmakers and aides that he's open to endorsing extensive background checks after the two mass shootings last weekend in El Paso and Dayton. But this has prompted a warning from the NRA, leading to concerns among White House aides.
Before he visited Dayton and El Paso on Wednesday, Trump told reporters there "was great appetite for background checks."
While he has previously offered support for gun control laws, it never led to any legislation without him pushing for it and without the support of the NRA and congressional Republicans.
According to officials who were speaking anonymously, Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's chief executive, spoke with Trump on Tuesday after he said he'd support a background check bill. He told the president his support would not be a popular move with his supporters. He also argued against such legislation. They talked more on Wednesday as well.
The NRA opposes the bipartisan legislation sponsored by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Sen. Joe Machin (D-WV).
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) advisers said he wouldn't be bringing any gun-control legislation to the floor without widespread Republican support, but he has already announced gun control will be front and center among legislation to be discussed when they return from recess in September.
Trump has had a difficult time deciding where to stand with this, according to current and past officials, because he'd like to do more yet is concerned he'll lose his base. Even those who support the Manchin-Toomey bill don't believe it will pass.
"I don't think the president or his Republican allies are going to become out-of-nowhere advocates of aggressive gun control," said Matt Schlapp, a close Trump ally and the American Conservative Union leader.
Trump has been focusing on gun control since the shootings and has been asking lawmakers and aides what he should do.
Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney convened a series of meetings to decide a response, and Trump discussed with aides holding a bill-signing ceremony for gun-control legislation in the Rose Garden, although if there isn't enough support for the bill, that is certainly premature.
There's also the option of an executive order. "He seems determined to do something and believes there is space to get something done this time around," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
He's spoken to the president "four or five times" since the shooting and said he "has a pretty common-sense point of view. He's never been a sports or gun enthusiast. But he is more determined than ever to do something on his watch."
Manchin admitted that Trump called him at 6:30 Monday morning, and they spoke again on Tuesday. The president said he wanted legislation before September. He didn't express support for the bill but did ask questions.
"He was inquisitive, wanting to know why it hadn't happened. He wanted to know all about it," explained Manchin. "I told him we couldn't get enough Republicans to help us."
He told the president he would need to support any legislation, or it would likely fail again. "If you don't stand up and say, 'This is a piece of legislation I support,' we're not going to get enough cover to have Republicans stand tall. They won't be able to do it," he said.
In his second call with Manchin, they discussed the lack of support. "I told him, we don't expect the NRA to be supportive. Mr. President, in all honesty, when you did the bump stocks, they weren't for you. They were against that, too. You didn't take any hit on that."
Toomey said he spoke with Trump as well, at least three times since the shootings. He didn't elaborate but did share that Trump has not endorsed the bill. They talked more generally about it.
An assault weapons ban has essentially been ruled out, according to White House officials and legislative aides. Recent polls show a majority of people in the United States support a ban of some type, though it is a partisan issue.
"There's no political space for that," said Graham. "So I don't think he's going to go down that road."
Trump has told advisers he cannot lose any members of his base over this issue, but Republican donor Dan Eberhart points out, "Republicans are headed for extinction in the suburbs if they don't distance themselves from the NRA. The GOP needs to put forth solutions to help eradicate the gun violence epidemic."
Trump has also promoted "Red flag" laws that allow family members or law enforcement to petition a judge to ban gun access for someone they believe is a threat to themselves or others.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) sees this as the "best route forward," as it will pass and Trump would sign it and have the gun control bill he's been looking for. The senator drafted the legislation to encourage more states to pass their own laws, with seventeen states and the District of Columbia already having passed similar bills.
Of course, former President Barack Obama passed a law to restrict gun purchases to people with mental illnesses, and Trump overturned it early on in his time in office.
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