President Donald Trump made no promises to NRA leaders during a Thursday night meeting other than a vow to “continue to support the Second Amendment,” his top spokeswoman said Friday.
Trump’s campaign-trail description of himself as a staunch defender of Americans’ right to purchase and possess firearms “is not something that he’s backed away from,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters at the White House.
On Thursday night, NRA chief lobbyist Chris Cox tweeted that he “had a great meeting tonight with @realDonaldTrump & @VP.”
“We all want safe schools, mental health reform and to keep guns away from dangerous people. POTUS & VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don’t want gun control,” Cox wrote.
I had a great meeting tonight with @realDonaldTrump & @VP. We all want safe schools, mental health reform and to keep guns away from dangerous people. POTUS & VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don’t want gun control. #NRA #MAGA— Chris Cox (@ChrisCoxNRA) March 2, 2018
About an hour later, the president tweeted this: “Good (Great) meeting in the Oval Office tonight with the NRA!” The NRA meeting was not on the president’s public schedule.
Good (Great) meeting in the Oval Office tonight with the NRA!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 2, 2018
Sanders reiterated Trump remains interested in overhauling the background check system used in some gun purchases, which he is “still very much interested in improving."
Like on other gun-related matters, Sanders used the unscheduled gaggle to put some distance between the president and things he said earlier in the week — including what he said about the universal background checks favored by many Democrats and gun-control activists.
“Not necessarily universal background checks, but certainly improving the background check system,” she said, according to a pool report. “He wants to see what that legislation, the final piece of it looks like. Universal means something different to a lot of people.”
Her comments follow a remarkable Wednesday afternoon meeting with Republican and Democratic lawmakers at the White House during which the GOP president sided with Democrats much more often than he did the visibly stunned Republicans sitting around a large table in the Cabinet Room.
Trump is inclined to support the so-called “Fix NICS” legislation being pushed by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn. (NICS is short for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is used to determine whether would-be gun buyers are eligible to purchase firearms.)
Sanders also appeared to walk back Trump’s Wednesday remarks during the freewheeling meeting by saying “he could” endorse a measure that is broader than the Cornyn-Murphy bill.
But two days earlier, her boss pleaded with the bipartisan group to send him something “more comprehensive” than Cornyn-Murphy — an ask that aligned him with congressional Democrats who warn that measure would make only modest improvements to the gun-buying process.
During the same meeting, Trump charged Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., and other Republican members with being “afraid of the NRA.”
The White House policy process on combating school shootings and other mass gun attacks is starting to resemble the one staffers conducting on immigration, with Trump expressing support for Democratic proposals only to be walked back to more conservative stances by his top aides.
For instance, here is what Trump told Senate Judiciary ranking member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on Wednesday when she asked if he would sign a bill establishing a requirement that buyers of AR-15 and similar assault weapons be 21 years old: “I tell you what, I’m going to give it a lot of consideration.”
Here is what Sanders said about that idea on Friday morning: “Conceptually, he still supports raising the age to 21. But he also knows there’s not a lot of broad support for that. But that's something he would support.”