President Donald Trump on Wednesday continued careening from one policy stance to the opposite, this time saying he has an “appetite” for background checks legislation after twice this week backing away from just that.
“We’re going to be doing background checks,” Trump told reporters before departing the White House for a speech to military veterans and two fundraising events in Kentucky. Notably, he said his focus would be on closing so-called “loopholes” in existing laws.
But the president also clearly is attempting to toe a line. He needs his Second Amendment-coveting conservative base to turn out in big numbers in a handful of battleground Rust Belt states and Florida. But political analysts also say he needs to retain some suburban women who are worried about their families’ safety after a spate of mass shootings in enough places to again get to 270 electoral votes.
The president on Wednesday repeated his warning about guns-related legislation that might overreach, calling such a bill the start of a “slippery slope” that might lead to the steady chipping away at gun rights.
Democratic lawmakers have used his “slippery” rhetoric to suggest Trump ultimately will stick with his base and opt against using the prestige of his office to push a bill through Congress following the August recess.
To be sure, confusion on his plans runs was thick of Washington’s August humidity.
On Tuesday, for the second time in three days, Trump appeared to be trying to distance himself from his own comments supporting background checks legislation in the wake of shootings earlier this month in Ohio and Texas.
“We have very, very strong background checks right now,” the president said Tuesday, adding his administration is “looking at mental institutions.” He again did not explain how his team might propose paying for those kinds of facilities.
But in the immediate days after the deadly Dayton and El Paso mass shootings, Trump advocated for a bill that would, in his words, create “intelligent” background checks.
He even appeared to be trying to force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to move on such legislation when the chamber returns next month, saying the Kentucky Republican and NRA ally is “totally on board” with crafting and moving a bill that could pass both chambers. McConnell’s aides, however, have noted their boss has yet to endorse any path ahead or policy proposal.
The week is beginning to — even more than usual — take on an amusement park-like theme for policy wonks that could include a roller coaster named for the 45th chief executive.
That’s because Trump and his staff have taken opposite stances on whether or not the White House is mulling a payroll tax proposal designed to help stave off an election-year recession that could cost the president a second term.
A White House official on Monday afternoon, responding to a Washington Post report that a plan to that end was being considered, said this: “More tax cuts for the American people are certainly on the table, but cutting payroll taxes is not something under consideration at this time.”
The president was mum on the issue on Twitter that evening and Tuesday morning. But he had plenty to say — yet again directly contradicting his own staff — when reporters peppered him questions that afternoon in the Oval Office.
“I’ve been thinking about payroll taxes for a long time,” he said, adding “lots of people” want him to do just that, even though GOP lawmakers opposed the Obama administration’s payroll rate reductions. (And as he often does, Trump didn’t define who those supporters are.)
The latest wild week at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. also featured Trump’s Twitter announcement Tuesday evening that he will cancel a planned official visit to Denmark because that country’s government won’t sell Greenland to the United States.
Denmark is a very special country with incredible people, but based on Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s comments, that she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland, I will be postponing our meeting scheduled in two weeks for another time….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 20, 2019
Trump has been vague about his plans for the Danish property, but says it is “strategically” potentially “interesting” for the United States.
On Tuesday, he criticized Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen for her reaction to his offer to purchase the frigid island, calling her “nasty” and her comments “absurd.”
Trump long has referred to critics and enemies who are female as “nasty,” drawing criticism from Democratic members and women’s groups.
“Greenland is not for sale. Greenland is not Danish. Greenland belongs to Greenland. I strongly hope that this is not meant seriously,” Frederiksen told the Sermitsiaq newspaper this week during a visit to Greenland. And in a TV interview, she called the prospect of selling it to the United States an “absurd discussion.”
She also appeared annoyed that Trump pulled the plug, saying: “I had been looking forward to the visit, our preparations were well under way.”