WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has finally outlined exactly what he wants to see from Congress on guns, and it’s not much.
After weeks of talk, Trump has settled on a modest set of proposals that fall far short of the wide-ranging changes — such as raising the minimum purchasing age on some guns or expanding background checks to gun shows and internet sales — he promoted during a televised White House meeting at the end of February. On an issue such as guns, where both sides are entrenched, it was the President who offered the best opportunity to scramble party lines and change the conversation. Instead, Trump is promoting plans that reflect traditional Republican orthodoxy, make narrow changes to background checks and focus more on school security.
The administration announced Sunday night that it would launch a commission to study school violence and would look at ways to allow states to train teachers who wanted to carry guns. The administration also announced support for legislation sponsored by Republican Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut that would offer financial incentives to state and federal agencies to enter more data into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System — a proposal known as “Fix NICs” — but stops far short of the expanded background check bill that Trump promoted at the end of February.
“I think the President mentioned Fix NICs in particular,” Cornyn said. “I’m glad everybody’s continuing to stay focused.”
The best chance for any of Trump’s proposals to get pushed through is for some of them to be added to the must-pass spending bill that must be finished before the end of March. House leaders discussed last week attaching funding for school safety in the omnibus, a source in the meeting told CNN, and the House will vote this week on their plan that that money goes to states. The Senate has its own plan that could potentially be included, but any final decision on what is included would have to have the approval of House and Senate Republicans and Democrats.
“That’s above my pay grade,” Cornyn said when asked if his Fix NICs bill would be included. “I’m happy to get done however.
Having a wide-ranging gun debate on the Senate floor doesn’t appear in the cards right now. The Senate floor is full with the body still working through a banking deregulation bill this week and then moving on to legislation to target sex trafficking.
Many Senate Democrats have also been clear that they aren’t interested in moving on Fix NICS — the legislation Trump is promoting — without an opportunity to get votes on more far-reaching gun proposals. While Democrats support Fix NICS, they view it as only a starting point.
“.@WhiteHouse has taken tiny baby steps designed not to upset @NRA when the #gunviolence epidemic demands giant steps be taken. @SenateDems will push to go further: passing universal #backgroundchecks, actual fed legislation on protection orders & a debate on #AssaultWeaponsBan,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York tweeted Sunday.
Murphy, a co-sponsor of Fix NICs, has said he has worked for weeks with Cornyn to try to find a time agreement, but that one has proved elusive.
“The problem seems to be that McConnell’s not willing right now to commit,” Murphy told CNN last week.
The White House’s announcement follows a familiar pattern for Trump. While publicly he might embrace plans that challenge his party’s principles on issues like guns or immigration, the President has a tendency over time and with the help of GOP leaders and aides to realign himself with core Republican principles. It happened with immigration and then again with guns.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota who sat in that televised meeting with Trump on guns, said “we’ve seen this before.”
“We have seen this before with the DREAMers and other things,” Klobuchar said while dismissing some Republicans who called Trump’s meeting nothing more than a brainstorming session.
“It was more than brainstorming when the President said once, twice, three, five, ten times that he supported the universal background check and he liked (a background check bill from Sens. Pat Toomey-JoeManchin.) That is not just brainstorming,” Klobuchar said.
Schumer blasted Trump on the Senate floor Monday afternoon for Trump’s backtracking.
“At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Trump failed to show the conviction and steady leadership required to make progress on the issue. After indicating support for a host of reasonable gun safety measures a few weeks ago and in front of the TV cameras that he invited in, yesterday, President Trump released a list of administration policies which represent 180-degree reversal,” Schumer said.
One of the key areas on guns where Trump seems to have retreated is on a proposal to raise the minimum age at which individuals can buy rifles from 18 to 21. In the wake of a shooting last month at a high school in Parkland, Florida, he was insistent that he wanted to see the age change. Even when aides suggested Trump was evolving, the President himself said he wanted to raise the age limit.
But the proposal wasn’t part of the plan Sunday, forcing Trump to explain himself on Twitter Monday morning: “On 18 to 21 Age Limits, watching court cases and rulings before acting. States are making this decision. Things are moving rapidly on this, but not much political support (to put it mildly).”
A CNN poll released late last month found 71% of Americans polled supported preventing people under age 21 from buying any type of gun.