President TrumpDonald John TrumpAlaska Republican Party cancels 2020 primary Ukrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: ‘They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!’ MORE is stringing along the debate over gun control by keeping alive discussions on expanded background checks, but just barely.
Senate negotiators initially expected Trump to signal his preferred approach to gun violence prevention by Sept. 13. Then they thought it would happen on Sept. 19.
As of Sunday, they’re still waiting.
The president has yet to indicate what gun-control reforms, if any, he’s ready to enforce. Meanwhile, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been left in a state of limbo.
A senior Senate Republican aide said Trump appears to be dragging out the debate to keep his options open.
“He doesn’t want to get into a fight with Second Amendment groups, but he doesn’t want to kill it either in case he might need it later on,” the aide said of a proposal to expand background checks to all commercial gun sales.
“So he’s telling senators, ‘Keep talking about it,’” the aide added.
The question of how to respond to gun violence is one of the toughest political tests of Trump’s presidency, one that could define his popularity in three trial battleground states: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin all leaned Democratic before the 2016 election, and each has large blocs of rural, gun-owning voters.
“It’s one of the biggest tightropes the president is walking,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist familiar with Trump’s political messaging operation.
“The question that the president is facing is: Would adopting these new rules on background checks, how much that would help him in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, North Carolina and Minnesota?” he said.
“Some argue that it could help him at the margins because we’re expecting an extremely close race. The question is: How many rural voters are turned off by this?” he added.
A poll conducted last month by Public Opinion Strategies, a GOP survey firm, showed that suburban women in trial districts say addressing gun violence is their top issue.
The survey also found that 72 percent of women in pivotal suburban districts say gun laws should be stricter.
And Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight 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 MORE’s (R-Pa.) sponsorship of legislation to expand background checks in 2013 was credited with helping him pick up swing suburban voters and win reelection three years later in a race Democrats were counting on winning.
But the National Rifle Association (NRA) on Wednesday slammed a proposal to expand background checks that Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrFeinstein calls on Justice to push for release of Trump whistleblower report Clarence Thomas, Joe Manchin, Rudy Giuliani among guests at second state visit under Trump Democrats to seek ways to compel release of Trump whistleblower complaint MORE circulated on Capitol Hill on behalf of the president.
Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzState Department’s top arms control official leaving Sanders NASA plan is definitely Earth first Trump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition MORE (R-Texas), after meeting with Barr, warned that Democrats could use expanded background checks to create a national registry and facilitate mandatory buyback programs.
“Of the 10 Democrats on stage running for president, three are explicitly supporting gun confiscation by the federal government,” Cruz said after a meeting with GOP colleagues where gun-control measures were discussed.
Trump then distanced himself from Barr’s proposal, telling reporters aboard Air Force One on Wednesday that he had not seen the document the Department of Justice shared with Senate offices.
“We’re throwing out many different ideas to Republicans and Democrats — see where they all come out,” he said. “We’re throwing a lot of ideas out, but we’re always going to be watching extremely closely the Second Amendment.”
In Fox News interview earlier in the day, Trump said he was willing to stand up against the NRA “if it’s not going to hurt a good, solid great American citizen from keeping his weapon because they want that.”
The president also suggested that part of the delay in advancing the gun control debate was due to former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s pledge at this month’s Democratic presidential debate that he would confiscate AR-15 semi-automatic rifles.
“Part of the problem that we have is because of Beto O’RourkeBeto O’RourkeO’Rourke gun confiscation talk alarms Democrats NRA deems O’Rourke ‘Salesman of the Month’ after Arizona gun store sells out of AR-15s during ‘Beto Special’ MSNBC ‘Climate in Crisis’ special draws 1.3M viewers in 8 pm timeslot MORE‘s statement about taking away guns,” Trump said. “A lot of the Republicans and some Democrats now, are afraid to do anything to go down that slippery slope. A lot of people think this is just a way of taking away guns. And that’s not good. Because we’re not going to allow that.”
Trump was expected to endorse a set of gun-violence proposals on Thursday but Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDC statehood push faces long odds despite record support Trump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition Zuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit MORE (R-Texas), who is immersed in Senate negotiations, said that timetable was thrown off by the strong pushback to Barr’s background-check proposal.
Trump gave Senate Republicans no indication Thursday how far he would go to address gun violence when he met with a group of GOP senators at the White House to discuss the renewable fuel standard.
Before the meeting, Republicans thought Trump might use the opportunity to bridge differences between Toomey, the leading proponent of expanded background checks, and Cruz, the most outspoken skeptic.
Instead, Trump just spoke briefly to Toomey about his proposal to expand background checks for all gun-show and internet sales, offering some encouragement but dropping no hints about whether he would ultimately support the measure.
“The president didn’t tip his hand. He and I had a brief exchange,” Toomey told The Hill after the meeting. “I remain cautiously optimistic. I think there’s a path forward.”
Toomey said he didn’t have any exchange with Cruz about background checks.
Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinO’Rourke gun confiscation talk alarms Democrats Clarence Thomas, Joe Manchin, Rudy Giuliani among guests at second state visit under Trump Schumer: I don’t know any ‘Democrat who agrees’ with O’Rourke on gun seizures MORE (D-W.Va.), who is co-leading bipartisan talks on background checks, said negotiators are “still in a holding pattern” because of Trump’s indecision.
A senior Republican senator told The Hill that without Trump’s endorsement of legislation to expand background checks, the proposal won’t pass.
The lawmaker said the leading alternative would be a legislative package that combines a bill sponsored by Cruz and Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America’s Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it’s ‘great to see’ plan | Progressives pushing for changes Trump: ‘Great to see’ Pelosi plan to lower drug prices Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices MORE (R-Iowa) and one under negotiation by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate Judiciary Committee requests consultation with admin on refugee admissions Trump reignites court fight with Ninth Circuit pick Trump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition MORE (R-S.C.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
The Cruz-Grassley bill would fix holes in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and trial down on straw purchasers of firearms, while the legislation discussed by Graham and Blumenthal would provide grants to states to fund “red flag laws,” which empower law enforcement officials to confiscate guns from people deemed to be dangerous.
Cruz made a pitch for his bill at a lunch meeting of the Senate Republican Steering Committee on Wednesday, according to a senator who attended, and later told reporters that it would be preferable to expanding background checks along the lines of what Toomey has proposed.
Brett Samuels contributed.