President TrumpDonald TrumpJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results MORE shook up the gun control debate — and many members of his own party — with a televised White House meeting with lawmakers that lasted more than an hour on Wednesday afternoon.
Trump expressed support for a number of gun control measures, including strengthened background checks and stricter age limits, even as he held fast to his insistence that schools should be made “harder” targets by permitting teachers and other personnel to be armed.
The reverberations from the meeting will continue for days, but what were the main takeaways?
Trump really does want action
There had been considerable skepticism over whether Trump was really intent upon taking action on gun violence, long a vexing issue in American politics, in the days immediately after the Feb. 14 Parkland, Fla., shooting.
But his demand to get something done appeared both genuine and urgent during Wednesday’s meeting. He repeatedly made the point that other presidents had failed to make progress on the issue but that he intended to do so.
Trump’s desire for action included some moves that will cause serious unease to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun rights groups.
Trump was dismissive of the idea of including so-called concealed carry reciprocity measures alongside broader legislation, arguing it would delay the effort to get something done. “You’ll never get it passed,” he told House Majority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseFifth House Republican comes out in support of bipartisan infrastructure bill Democratic leaders racing toward Monday infrastructure vote House GOP to whip against bipartisan infrastructure bill MORE (R-La.).
Trump at times suggested that his predecessor, President Obama, had not asserted himself strongly enough in the push for gun control — a claim that overlooks the efforts Obama made, in vain, to pass stricter gun laws after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.
But the Obama comparison also shows the extent to which Trump is making it a matter of personal pride to notch up some kind of achievement on gun laws.
That, in itself, seems to increase the chances of success.
Heartburn for the NRA
Trump took aim at the NRA during the hourlong meeting, positioning himself as unafraid of the powerful gun lobby that has dominated politics for decades.
When GOP Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyBlack women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote MORE (Pa.) told Trump that his 2013 background check bill didn’t raise the minimum age for buying a rifle, Trump fired back: “You know why? Because you're afraid of the NRA, right?”
The NRA has come out strongly against increasing the minimum age from 18 to 21. But Trump, describing himself as a “fan” of the organization, urged lawmakers to consider including such a provision in their bill.
Trump also told them he wanted to be “very powerful” on background checks and warned that including concealed carry reciprocity would sink the overall legislation.
The NRA released a statement late Wednesday afternoon, which did not mention Trump. The group called the White House event “great TV” and warned that legislation should not “punish law-abiding Americans.”
Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook Democrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan MORE (R-Texas) downplayed the idea that Trump’s comments would result in a shift on Capitol Hill on guns.
“I wouldn’t confuse what he said with what can actually pass. So I think I don’t expect to see any great divergence in terms of people’s views on the Second Amendment, for example,” Cornyn said.
Trump believes these meetings work for him
This is the second lengthy meeting where Trump has allowed lawmakers to put forth divergent ideas on a contentious issue. The first came on immigration last month
Additionally, Trump’s White House meeting with Parkland survivors last week also struck an unusual tone. Instead of the tightly scripted, buttoned-down events of the past, Trump spent most of his time listening, while people affected by gun violence delivered raw, emotional speeches.
The degree to which the White House is willing to jettison the script in favor of looser, more improvisational gatherings is fascinating — not least because of what it says politically.
Trump aides clearly feel the approach helps him, and it’s not hard to see why. Trump in listening mode seems a less combative and polarizing figure than at his campaign rallies.
Meetings with lawmakers also allow Trump to cast himself in his favorite role of dealmaker, willing to go against his own party's orthodoxy.
That happened at the immigration meeting, where he seemed to signal agreement with Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFederal watchdog calls on Congress, Energy Dept. to overhaul nuclear waste storage process Senate advances Biden consumer bureau pick after panel logjam Republicans caught in California's recall trap MORE (D-Calif.) on the need for a clean bill to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, to the evident unease of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Fifth House Republican comes out in support of bipartisan infrastructure bill Watch live: McCarthy holds briefing with reporters MORE (R-Calif.).
On Wednesday, Trump expressed support for bipartisan legislation and requested that such legislation incorporate ideas from two Democratic senators, Feinstein and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Officials want action on cyberattacks Senate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook This week: Democrats face mounting headaches MORE (D-Minn.).
One caveat, however: The expansive tone of these meetings does not necessarily last for long.
Just two days after the immigration encounter, Trump caused an uproar by reportedly referring to “shithole countries” at a subsequent, closed White House meeting.
His spontaneous style complicates legislation
Trump’s freewheeling style sparked immediate confusion on Capitol Hill about the path forward.
Cornyn and Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio Democrats face bleak outlook in Florida The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems attempt to tie government funding, Ida relief to debt limit MORE (R-Fla.) pointed to the Fix NICS (National Instant Background Check System) Act as the bill the Senate should take up, while Democrats and Toomey thought Trump added new life to the 2013 Manchin-Toomey background check bill.
“He knows something has to be done. It’s the most reasonable approach. It was good in 2013. It’s good now. So we’ll use it as our base and work off of it,” Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOvernight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Poll from liberal group shows more voters in key states back .5T bill Why Democrats opposing Biden's tax plan have it wrong MORE (D-W.Va.) said.
The Manchin-Toomey proposal failed to get 60 votes in 2013, with five red state Democrats siding with Republicans to help sink the bill.
Cornyn, however, argued that “for me the most obvious place to start is the Fix NICS bill that has 46 co-sponsors.”
Trump repeatedly urged Cornyn to expand his legislation to include expanded background checks and even suggested renaming it as the “U.S. background check bill or whatever.”
If Trump sticks by his comments, GOP lawmakers and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWe don't need platinum to solve the debt ceiling crisis The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble House passes standalone bill to provide B for Israel's Iron Dome MORE (R-Ky.) could be forced to pick between bucking Trump and sticking with the narrower Fix NICS bill or crossing gun groups influential among the party’s base.
The meeting was reminiscent of the January talks on immigration. Trump said at the time that he would sign whatever bill Congress sent him only to shoot down a bipartisan proposal two days later.
“Today he said he supported everything … we’ll see where he comes down next week,” said Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinSchumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Democrats surprised, caught off guard by 'framework' deal Senate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook MORE (D-Ill.).
Lawmakers believe they can flatter Trump
Lawmakers appeared to be appealing to Trump’s ego as they tried to win over his support for their gun control ideas.
Members stressed that Trump, who has touted his ability to make deals, could help get a gun control bill across the finish line after past presidents had tried and failed.
“Well, and in all fairness, this is a bill that basically, with your support, it would pass,” Manchin told Trump as he described the 2013 background checks bill. Meanwhile, Feinstein, when Trump asked if she could add in some of her proposals, responded: “If you help.”
Trump appeared to lap up the attention. He repeatedly pushed lawmakers to say what had foiled previous gun bills was a lack of support from the White House — namely the Obama administration.
“I like that responsibility, Chris, I really do,” he said to Democratic Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyCongress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B Senators slow Biden with holds at Pentagon, State Tell our troops: 'Your sacrifice wasn't in vain' MORE (Conn.). “It's time that a president stepped up.”
It’s hardly the first time officials have resorted to flattery. During a televised June meeting, cabinet officials went one-by-one around the table praising Trump.
Lawmakers have previously mocked Trump over his ego. Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats press Schumer on removing Confederate statues from Capitol Democrats' do-or-die moment Biden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan MORE (D-N.Y.) parodied the Cabinet meeting by releasing a video of three staffers sitting around a table praising him.
“GREAT meeting today with the best staff in the history of the world!!!” Schumer said in a tweet accompanying the video.