Trump to GOP senator: 'You're afraid of the NRA'

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFamily immigration detention centers could be at capacity within days: report Trump likely to meet with Putin in July: report DOJ requests military lawyers to help prosecute immigration crimes: report MORE at a televised White House meeting on Wednesday suggested that Republican Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyOvernight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race MORE (Pa.) was afraid of the National Rifle Association (NRA), seeming to borrow a talking point from Democrats.

During the meeting, Trump asked Toomey and Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinElection Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral Manchin up 9 points over GOP challenger in W.Va. Senate race Senate moderates push for meeting to discuss border crisis MORE (D-W.Va.) if they included raising the age limit for some gun purchases in the gun control bill they co-sponsored.

“We didn’t address that, Mr. President,” Toomey said.

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“You know why? Because you’re afraid of the NRA,” Trump replied with a chuckle. “It’s a big issue right now. A lot of people are talking about it.”

“A lot of people are afraid of that issue — raising the age for that weapon to 21.”

Trump’s reiteration of support for raising the age for purchasing rifles shakes up the debate in the Senate.

“You can’t buy a handgun at 18, 19 or 20 — you have to wait until you’re 21 but you can buy the gun, the weapon used in this horrible shooting at 18,” he said.

Senate Republicans said on Tuesday and Wednesday that there were not enough votes to raise the age threshold to 21.

The proposal had flagged somewhat after Trump seemed to back away from it after encountering strong opposition to the NRA.

Trump on Wednesday told lawmakers that he’s “a fan of the NRA” but that he would not let the powerful interest group’s opposition deter him.

Toomey disputed that his feelings of the NRA influenced his position.

“My reservation about it frankly is that the vast majority of 18, 19 and 20-year-olds in Pennsylvania, who have a rifle or shotgun… they’re law-abiding citizens," the senator countered. "They have that because they want to use it for hunting or target shooting and to deny them their second amendment right isn’t going to make anyone safer."

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Toomey dismissed as absurd the notion he’s afraid of the NRA, arguing he took on the gun-owners’ rights group in 2013 over the issue of background checks.

“I’m the guy that wrote the bill with Joe Manchin that the NRA opposed. I’m the guy they wouldn’t endorse. I’m the guy that hasn’t gotten a contribution from them since 2010,” he said.

Toomey and Manchin had introduced a bipartisan bill in 2013 that would have expanded background checks for gun purchases. The bill failed in the Senate after five Democrats from Republican or Republican-leaning states voted against it.

Steve Kelly, a spokesman for Toomey, noted that his boss has continuously supported the bill he co-wrote with Manchin to expand background checks.

“Despite the aggressive opposition of the NRA, Sen. Toomey never wavered in his commitment to this legislation,” he said. “Sen. Toomey has demonstrated that he is not afraid of the NRA or any other special interest group.”

Last week, Toomey pledged to reintroduce the legislation, saying he believed there is “a shot at getting a little bit of momentum” for the bill.

The pledge to reintroduce the bill is one of a swath of gun control proposals that have come in the weeks since the deadly shooting at a Florida high school earlier this month that left 17 people dead and 14 others injured.

Trump has endorsed increasing the minimum age for some gun purchases from 18 to 21. The idea has also been supported by Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R).

In a meeting with Trump this weekend, the NRA pressed Trump not to raise the legal age for purchasing guns.