President Donald Trump isn’t expected to announce new proposed action on guns until he meets with representatives of the video game industry on Thursday, two sources familiar with the matter tell CNN. Both sources caution, however, that the President could change his mind at any time and opt to move forward with his policy before the meeting.
Nearly three weeks since the shooting that killed 17 people, Trump appears more eager to take action on campaign promises to his base than action on guns. The disinterest is a shift from the days after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, when Trump told confidants and aides that he was moved to do something his predecessors had failed to do.
Top White House officials have been working on a series of legislative priorities on guns and school safety since the Parkland shooting. They had hoped to release their work at the end of last week, but those plans were dashed by a freewheeling listening session between Trump and a bipartisan group of lawmakers. In it, the President backed proposals that ran contrary to Republican orthodoxy and were at odds with what his team had hoped to roll out.
The meeting – as one Republican senator said afterward – was “surreal” and threw the entire White House internal debate over guns into chaos.
Press secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday the White House was “continuing to have those conversations” on guns and school safety but offered no indication that the policy would be rolled out anytime soon.
“(President Trump) has laid out some specific things and some specific places that he does support,” Sanders said. “We are going to continue some of the discussion, continue to engage with Congress as we lay out some of the details on what we would like to see.”
Sanders said those conversations include “the meeting that will take place on Thursday with some of the video game industry.”
Sources inside the White House told CNN that the White House’s legislative priorities on guns are also expected to be far narrower than Trump has laid out during the listening session and likely won’t include a plan to raise the minimum age to purchase certain firearms from 18 to 21.
“I think the President continues to support, as he said, the 21 year old (requirement), but I think there is also probably a lack of support for that right now, so that may be a longer-term effort,” one official said.
The internal White House effort is being led by Andrew Bremberg and his team at the Domestic Policy Council, Marc Short and his White House Legislative Affairs team and Sanders and her communications team, the official said. As of now, the plan includes a grant program to help protect schools during a shooting and an endorsement of the “Fix NICS” bill, a proposal from Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, and Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, that would improve reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
The delay after the listening session has also helped another issue – trade – take center stage inside the White House. After a grueling week in the White House, Trump decided to take action on trade by imposing steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports before his policy team had a chance to write out the details.
The move helped Trump make good on a promise he first made during the 2016 campaign and dispense with the delays that have come to define his trade agenda over one year into his administration.
Trump has looked to present himself as unbeholden to gun interest groups, even accusing members of his own party of being afraid of the National Rifle Association. However, the NRA spent millions of dollars on behalf of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and the President has met with leaders from the group twice since the Parkland shooting.
The lack of concrete action, while not surprising to gun control activists, has been disheartening to them. Trump’s comments during the listening sessions “were better than what folks expected him to say,” one senior strategist looking to push the White House to endorse gun control measures told CNN. But there was a realization that Trump could be making promises he couldn’t fulfill, similar to the recent immigration policy debate.
“We were certainly cautious with slight optimism,” the strategist said. “But we always recognized that people know who is standing in the way of getting something done: It is the NRA and more Republicans in Congress. At some level, talk is cheap.”
These activists, while deeply skeptical of Trump, were slightly optimistic that the businessman-turned-politician could get something done on an issue that as long vexed his predecessors. Their thinking went like this: Trump has a chance to change the dynamic of the guns debate because he has a devoted base of supporters who won’t break with him.
But speaking with Republican donors on Saturday in Florida, Trump repeated a familiar Republican line and said Democrats would “take away your guns” if they won in the 2018 midterm elections.
“They’re going to take away your tax cuts,” Trump said, according to a recording obtained by CNN. “They’re going to take away your guns if they can.”
The lack of action from the White House has trickled down Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill, where the issue is unlikely to come to a vote.
Congressional leaders are eager to see what gun proposals Trump will tack his name onto. Democrats think Trump could muster the necessary Republican support to get a gun bill through Congress and Republicans want to know where Trump stands because they would like presidential cover when debating the issue.
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a moderate Democrat who has signaled a willingness to take action on guns, said a bill could get through “if the President comes forward and says, ‘This is what I want done, this is what I’m going to support and I will give you the cover you need.’ “
“It’s up to President Trump,” Manchin added on Sunday. “That can be a legacy for him.”
Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, echoed Manchin on Monday.
“He has moved the ball. He has definitely shaken things up. But he has got to follow through,” King said. “And whether he goes all the way or not, he has got to move the ball downfield somewhere, because otherwise we are going to be doing the same thing a year from now and there are going to be more kids killed in the meantime.”
But there has been anything but certainty from the White House on the issue.
Trump has both called for a comprehensive gun bill to address school shootings and pledged not to support tighter gun control.