WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump backed away from supporting a bipartisan comprehensive background check bill and endorsed a more limited Republican measure after meeting with the National Rifle Association on Thursday night, his press secretary said Friday.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday the only specific promise Trump made to the NRA was to support the Second Amendment, but she also indicated that Trump reversed course on background checks and accepts he can’t pass raising the age to 21 for gun purchases.
Trump revealed the unannounced session that included Vice President Mike Pence in a tweet Thursday night: “Good (Great) meeting in the Oval Office tonight with the NRA!”
He tweeted in response to a post by top NRA lobbyist Chris Cox, who summarized the meeting by saying that “we want safe schools, mental health reform and to keep guns away from dangerous people” and “support due process and don’t want gun control.”
Republicans and Democrats said what they pass in Congress, if anything, depends on Trump’s leadership.
Lawmakers face pressure to act from student survivors and strong public concern after a troubled young man killed 17 students and adults Feb. 14 at a Parkland, Florida, high school.
At the televised meeting with lawmakers Wednesday, Trump pushed aside the limited bill sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and urged lawmakers to use a more expansive bipartisan bill to require background checks for almost all commercial gun sales as a base for comprehensive legislation.
Trump pushed for “comprehensive background checks” and agreed to review an assault weapon ban — despite opposition to them by the NRA — and even argued guns should be taken from the dangerously mentally ill before getting a court order.
The tweet by the NRA’s Cox suggests his meeting with Trump and Pence included the gun lobby’s strong opposition to confiscating guns without a court order and due process.
Huckabee Sanders on Friday said Trump is not “necessarily for universal background checks,” adding, “In terms of legislation, as of right now he supports the Cornyn legislation.” She added it’s possible he could go beyond that bill.
Cornyn’s bill, which has bipartisan support, would offer incentives to federal and state agencies to file already required reports with the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS, to block ineligible gun purchasers with felonies or adjudicated dangerously mental illness.
Trump also appeared to be stepping back from raising the age to 21 to buy the kinds of weapons used in recent mass shootings.
“Conceptually, he still supports raising the age [to buy rifles and assault weapons] to 21. But he also knows there’s not a lot of broad support for that. But that’s something he would support,” Huckabee Sanders said.
“I think he thinks it would probably have more potential in the states than it would at the federal level,” she said.
On Wednesday, when told by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that his bipartisan background check bill didn’t raise the age for weapons purchases, Trump said that was “because you’re afraid of the NRA, right?”
Trump also spoke to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Huckabee Sanders said.
“He wants to help move the ball down the field, so he’s going to keep having calls with a number of different members on how we can do that.”
Ryan supports the House version of the Cornyn bill that the Republican majority paired with a bill — opposed by Democrats — requiring states to honor any other state’s concealed gun carry permits.
Trump told House Republicans at the meeting Wednesday that no bill would pass with the concealed carry provision. Democrats opposed that House bill because of it.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) likened Trump’s reversal to his handling of immigration.
“With the bipartisan group and the camera lights on, his instincts were to do the right thing,” Schumer said on CNN. “Then the hard right puts pressure on him, in this case the NRA, and he does a total 180-degree flip.”
Schumer said he has some hope for an expanded background check bill to pass.
“I think there’s maybe something different out there now, led by these brave kids from Parkland,” he said, noting they’re behind marches in Washington and nationwide on March 24.
But Schumer added that Republican leaders of the Senate and House “are so afraid of the NRA, as are most of their members, that unless the president gives them cover by saying he’s for it, it’s very hard to see getting anything else done.”