President Donald Trump’s sprawling, televised hour-long meeting on guns with lawmakers means everything or nothing at all.
It’s the gamechanger or it will be reversed over the course of the next 24 hours. It’s the tipping point or just a brief interlude before reality slams back into place.
Let’s all just pause for minute with grand proclamations either way. Here’s the truth: senior Republican lawmakers and aides are somewhere in between perplexed and furious about the meeting (more on why below). Democrats are a mix of surprised and extremely skeptical. It was a fascinating hour. But in terms of setting – or resetting – the dynamic on gun control? That’s not what happened.
Bottom line: Trump shook up the gun conversation for one hour Wednesday. And he may continue to do so. But the gun debate on Capitol Hill is still controlled in the House and Senate by Republicans. And Wednesday moved them further from – not closer to – more restrictive gun measures.
Just a few hours before the meeting, any concrete plans for a Senate gun debate or amendment votes had officially fallen apart, according to multiple sources. There was brief optimism on Tuesday something on guns could occur next week. That is very clearly no longer on the table.
And of course: House Republicans have made clear they won’t move on anything until the Senate acts.
Why Republicans are frustrated with the President’s meeting, a list:
Based on conversations with more than a dozen aides and lawmakers, here are the issues:
- Jamming them on Manchin-Toomey: The President appeared to have little, if any, knowledge of the comprehensive background checks measure from Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania – either its substance or its legislative history. Despite significant Republican opposition, the President appeared to back it as the base bill for any gun debate. That won’t fly.
- The NRA: Republicans push back constantly at the idea that they are bought and controlled by the NRA. It’s that they believe in the same things as the NRA, and that’s where they intertwine and work together (as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida stated in CNN’s gun debate town hall last week.) Yet it’s clear Trump, in his comments, is very much of the mind of Democrats who believe the party is wholly owned by the NRA.
- More on Toomey: That Toomey, who took the NRA head on with his background checks bill and still has the very visible scars to show for it, was the target of the President’s NRA comments really, really bothered a lot of Republicans.
- Raising the purchase age for long guns: Some Republicans are open to this. More aren’t. Putting it on the table as one of the top ideas only kept a policy change GOP leadership doesn’t plan to consider in the headlines.
- Due process: Speaking of the restraining orders Rubio plans to introduce, that’s precisely what Vice President Mike Pence was describing when the President interrupted him and suggested due process come second, taking the guns first. Sen. Ben Sasse had a very, very strong statement in response to this.
- Assault style weapons ban: One Republican noted that Trump’s refusal to slam the door on this when Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, brought it up was “malpractice from the standpoint of our guys.”
- Concealed carry reciprocity: The one thing Trump did slam the door on? Concealed carry reciprocity. Trump was 100% correct in saying that it has no chance of moving through the Senate and would be considered a poison pill. But it’s very important to House Republicans – and to some degree was a measure of negotiating leverage, should any gun bills move in the Senate. That’s now gone completely.
The bottom line on this: Republicans have no plans to move forward on gun control measures – the votes aren’t there for them in the Senate at the moment, beyond the Fix NICS bill, and House GOP leadership doesn’t plan to put any on the floor. The president, on Wednesday, gave Democrats a very valuable – and vocal – ally in their push to force congressional Republicans to change course. And that, more than anything else, is why Republicans are frustrated.
Reality check on how this will all likely end up: Best case scenario remains, according to multiple aides and lawmakers, as we’ve been saying for days, passage of the Fix NICS bill – which offers financial incentives to state and local governments for reporting information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System – with a an additional financial package dealing with funding and grants for school safety and mental health measures.
Something to keep an eye on: Rubio’s gun and school safety proposals today will include a version of the gun violence restraining order idea. This has become the topic of a lot of discussion in conservative circles (David French has a really good piece on it in NRO).
Now Republicans aren’t entirely sold on the idea. Some expressed concerns about implementing it on a federal level, due process, it’s general sweep etc. But it’s certainly an idea that’s buzzing right now.
About the White House gun and school safety principles coming Thursday
Any announcement on this Thursday has had limited consultation with Capitol Hill staff about its formulation of those. Everyone is in the dark about what they will entail at the moment.
What Democrats are thinking: Tuesday Trump or Thursday Trump? It’s now become legend in both parties in these days – the description of the President’s 48 hour 180-degree spin on immigration earlier this year. A wide-ranging, publicly televised meeting where Trump appeared open to everything and anything, followed by a complete reversal shutting the door to all Democratic proposals. (Some version of this happened in the “Chuck and Nancy” meeting as well.)
To put it plainly, Democrats are waiting for the walk back from Wednesday’s meeting.
But, and this is important: Those same Democrats say the only way any type of gun restrictions have a chance in the Senate (and it’s still a slim chance), it will take the full-throated – and relentless – support of the President.