White House insists Trump has not ‘chickened out’ on NRA
The White House on Monday defended President Trump’s gun proposals as it faced questions about whether he had “chickened out” in the face of pressure from the National Rifle Association (NRA).
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump “hasn’t backed away” from his support for expanding background checks or raising the age limit on gun purchases, although neither was addressed in a plan the administration rolled out Sunday night.
The NRA, which contributed heavily to Trump’s election campaign in 2016, opposes both measures.
“He hasn’t backed away from these things at all,” Sanders said at a press briefing, where she faced numerous questions on the issue, including from a Washington Post reporter who said the president seemed “petrified” by opposition from the NRA and wondered whether he had “chickened out.”
“They’re still outlined in the plan,” Sanders said.
Sanders made the case that Trump is focusing first on proposals that have “broad bipartisan support” or that could be accomplished “immediately” through the regulatory process or federal action.
She insisted that the president still supports raising age limits on gun purchases and expanding background checks, but said both would require more political pressure and further review before action can be taken.
“He can’t make them happen with a broad stroke of the pen,” Sanders said. “You have to have some congressional component to do some of these things, and without that support, it’s not as possible.”
The White House is under growing pressure to act on the president’s proposed gun restrictions after last month’s shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 people dead.
Weeks ago at a White House meeting with lawmakers from both parties, Trump accused Republicans of fearing the NRA and of backing down against it. He also repeatedly said he was different from other presidents and that he would take action in response to gun violence.
But the proposals advanced in a White House plan rolled out Sunday included little that would bother the NRA — a point that reporters sought to drive home in several contentious exchanges with Sanders on Monday.
“It seemed like President Trump was the one petrified of the NRA,” the Post reporter said.
An exasperated Sanders said the White House was focused on what it could accomplish in the near-term, while also noting that former President Obama was not able to do anything on gun control.
“Let’s not forget that the Obama administration had the White House and all of Congress for two years and didn’t do anything,” she said.
Trump said on Twitter on Monday he still supports raising the minimum age for purchasing a gun but there isn’t enough “political support” on that front right now.
Sanders said the administration is reviewing whether age restrictions can be done at the federal level or if they need to be enacted on a state-by-state basis.
“The president, as you know, doesn’t have the ability to just create federal law, and he would need a number of other individuals to come together to help make that happen,” Sanders said.
The president on Monday also reiterated his support for strengthening background checks, although Sanders declined to elaborate on whether the president supports universal background checks, which would require federal involvement in private gun sale transactions and at gun shows.
The White House is backing a bill in Congress that would incentivize the use of the current criminal background checks system without expanding it. The NRA opposes expanding background checks.
In the near term, the White House says it will focus on training and arming some school officials — a highly controversial idea.
The Department of Justice will launch a voluntary program aimed at matching schools with state and local law enforcement officials to provide “rigorous firearm training to qualified personnel.”
The administration is looking to support the transition of law enforcement officials into education careers and is calling on states to enforce new measures that would allow them to take firearms away from people they deem potential threats.
And the Justice Department is reviewing whether it can use the regulatory process to ban bump stocks, a device that allows certain semi-automatic weapons to fire more rapidly. The NRA opposes banning the sale of bump stocks.
“What he is pushing forward are things that can immediately be accomplished, either through the administration or that have broad base bipartisan support in Congress,” Sanders said. “But that doesn’t mean that he has wiped away some of those other things that we’re still looking at how best we can move forward on.”
The White House has tapped Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to lead a federal commission to determine how best to address gun violence in schools.
That effort got off to a rocky start after DeVos struggled through a “60 Minutes” interview on Sunday, in which she had a hard time answering basic questions about the education system and appeared conflicted on Trump’s proposal to arm some teachers.
“That should be an option for states and communities to consider,” DeVos said. “And I hesitate to think of, like, my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Zorhoff, I couldn’t ever imagine her having a gun and being trained in that way.”
“But for those who are — who are capable this is one solution that can and should be considered,” she said. “But no one size fits all.”
Trump has in the past criticized so-called blue ribbon commissions, like the one DeVos is leading on school safety, saying they are used by bureaucrats to kick the can down the road.
The White House said Monday that Trump, not DeVos, would be the face of the administration’s push on new gun proposals.
“I think the president is going to be the lead on school safety when it comes to this administration,” Sanders said. “He certainly has been since the process has begun, and he’ll continue to lead on it as we move forward.”
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