White House

Trump again signals gun background checks bill is not a top priority

Congress should pass ‘something having to do with mental illness,’ president says

President Donald Trump is signaling that legislation to mandate background checks for gun purchases is not a priority for him. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday signaled he is poised to defy public support for stronger background checks for firearm purchases in the wake of several deadly mass shootings.

He also again reverted to a pessimistic outlook for his long-promised trade pact that China that has devolved from rounds of talks into a tariff “battle,” as he described it Wednesday. Trump late last month described himself as the “chosen one,” picked by a higher power to get tough on China over what he calls its “unfair” trading tactics.

Both the House and Senate are due back from recess next week with members and White House aides talking very generally about how they might craft a package aimed at preventing more mass shootings.

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Since back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, last month, the president has vacillated on his position on gun control. At first, he embraced strengthening background checks. But days later, after discussions with top National Rifle Association officials, he appeared to back off on that idea.

In recent weeks, Trump — echoed by Republican members — has described the mass shootings epidemic as a mental health problem. But his staff and GOP members have yet to roll out a plan aimed at addressing what they call a major problem — other than the president’s endorsement of building new “institutions” for people with mental issues.

At the end of an event Wednesday at the White House on combating the opioids epidemic, Trump again signaled he favors signing legislation targeting mass shootings that has “something having to do with mental illness” rather than beefing up background checks.

The president’s climb-down from support of a background checks bill comes as more Americans say they would support such a measure. For instance, a recent Morning Consult/Politico survey found that 73 percent of registered voters want stronger background checks.

Asked specifically about background checks, the president said that “even the more severe and comprehensive ideas that are being put forward” would not have prevented the mass gun murders over the last few years.

Democratic lawmakers disagree. They say ideas like increasing the waiting period between a background check and an actual firearm transaction would make it easier to identify potential red flags.

Trump said officials and lawmakers should know “soon” whether anything new will even move on Capitol Hill related to mass shootings. The House passed a background checks bill earlier this year, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to schedule a vote on that measure.

The Kentucky Republican has said during the August recess that his chamber would only vote on a bill the president would sign.

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With lawmakers soon to start streaming back to Washington, a White House official said there are no meetings with members of Congress on Trump’s schedule aimed at getting a background checks bill to his desk.

Meanwhile, the president also continued his near-daily shifting on the likelihood of a trade pact with China.

After several Twitter rants slamming Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government this week, he did not sound an optimistic tone about the on-again-off-again-on-again talks with Beijing.

“China wants very much to make a deal. They had the worst year [economically] in over 50,” he said. “Millions of jobs have been lost. Their supply has been destroyed, or soon to be destroyed. … I don’t think they can continue onward like that.”

Trump revealed his strategy for the high-stakes trade war — which has  rattled markets and sparked recession fears in the U.S. and around the globe — and he’s betting that Xi will blink if his economy continues to sputter.

But economists say the Chinese leader is playing a long game and is willing to see if Trump wins a second term next year. They see Beijing’s retaliatory tariffs and threats of more to come as a sign that Xi is ready to fight.

What’s Trump’s expectation for the next round to negotiations?

“Let's see if they can get to the table,” he said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, China filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization earlier this week, challenging the legality of the U.S. tariffs. 

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