(BEDMINSTER, N.J.) — While President Donald Trump is away at his private golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, work has been underway back in Washington, where staffers from Capitol Hill and the White House have been meeting on potential gun control legislation.
At the White House on Tuesday, aides from key Senate offices, including Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R- Tenn., met with members of Trump’s legislative affairs teams to discuss potential gun control measures. While there are no plans at the moment for the president to be briefed, Trump has given his “full blessing” for the bipartisan discussion, according to a senior official, who said the president is staying updated.
In the aftermath of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, there is a renewed effort to tackle gun control in Congress. Trump began taking the temperature for what can potentially get accomplished, either by legislation or executive action, with aides and members on Capitol Hill. The meetings, first reported by the New York Times, demonstrate the White House’s willingness to act after the recent tragedies that left 31 dead.
Over the weekend in New Jersey, the president talked to Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and last week, he spoke on the phone with Manchin and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., multiple times about their 2013 background check bill. According to aides, Ivanka Trump has called members on the Hill to discuss their ideas, and Vice President Mike Pence has been working with Attorney General William Barr to make the death penalty more likely for mass shooters. But despite the blur of activity, concerns have also been raised about the feasibility of anything getting done.
Trump hasn’t made any decisions about next steps, but has expressed interest in the Manchin-Toomey background check bill, expanding red flag laws — but also beefing up due process protections — and working on mental health measures.
On Tuesday, en route to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the president said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell supports background checks.
“I am convinced that Mitch wants to do something. I’ve spoken to Mitch McConnell. He’s a good man. He wants to do something. He wants to do it, I think, very strongly. He wants to do background checks and I do too, and I think a lot of Republicans do. I don’t know, frankly, that the Democrats will get us there,” Trump said.
McConnell, however, has not publicly expressed whether or not he supports background checks and said he has no plans to call the Senate back from recess.
“We’d just have people scoring political points and nothing would happen. There has to be a bipartisan discussion here of what we can agree on,” McConnell said in a radio interview last week. “We’re going to begin these discussions over the August break and when we get back (in September), hopefully we’ll be in a position to agree on things on a bipartisan basis and go forward and make a law.”
Democrats have asked for McConnell to call lawmakers back to vote on two bills passed by the House in February that focused on background checks. McConnell did not take up the bills for a floor vote, and the White House recommended a veto.
There is skepticism that the momentum for some kind of bipartisan agreement – even during the famously slow month of August in Washington – will fall short. And behind the scenes, some have expressed to the president concerns about how gun control measures will play out politically.
Trump has spoken with Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association, which still has immense power in Washington and influence with its millions of members across the country. The NRA’s stance remains in opposition to “expanding firearm background check systems, because background checks don’t stop criminals from getting firearms, because some proposals to do so would deprive individuals of due process of law, and because NRA opposes firearm registration,” the organization states on its website.
A senior administration official told ABC News that while the president wants to accomplish something, there is concern about how some gun laws could impact Trump in the upcoming 2020 presidential election. They recognize the margin for Trump to win is so narrow they want to be careful they don’t offend his base in any way.
The president, for now, has signaled that no matter what, he plans to move forward.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “But I believe that Mitch, and I can tell you from my standpoint, I would like to see meaningful background checks, and I think something will happen. Look, it’s very simple, there’s nobody more pro-Second Amendment than Donald Trump, but I don’t want guns in the hands of a lunatic or a maniac and I think if we do proper background checks, we could prevent that.”
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