President Donald Trump is calling for Congress to pass “strong” legislation on firearms background checks following deadly weekend shootings in Ohio and Texas, but just what he wants lawmakers to send him remains vague.
He even used a pair of Monday morning tweets, posted hours before he is slated to address the country at 10 a.m., to address the latest mass shootings during his tenure. The suspect in Saturday’s El Paso shooting posted a manifesto that echoed Trump’s previous statements about an “invasion” of the United States by undocumented migrants from Central and South America.
The 21-year-old white male El Paso gunman’s writings have cast yet another cloud over Trump’s White House because the shootings, and publishing of the manifesto, came after the president recently tweeted that four minority House female freshmen should “go back” to countries from which he claimed they were born — only one was not born on U.S. soil — and following his feud with House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings. Last week, Trump appeared to gloat about the black congressman’s Baltimore residence being burglarized; the president later denied it was a “wise guy” tweet.
At a rally in May in Panama City Beach, Fla., the president used some of his sharpest rhetoric ever about what he calls a “crisis” of undocumented migration: “How do you stop these people? You can’t. … Shoot them.” The almost-exclusively white audience roared once, then again when he quipped: “Only in the Panhandle can you get away with that statement.”
White House officials and other Republicans say the president should not be linked to any shooter’s actions. But he will be in a tricky political corner when he steps into the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House Monday morning, having never quite found his footing as comforter in chief and shown little willingness to support any legislation that might anger his Second Amendment-embracing conservative base.
Here are three things the president could call for:
The president has called on lawmakers to pass immigration, infrastructure and bills on other topics before without explaining just what he would — or, just as importantly, would not — sign. Since he always keeps that base in mind, there are ample reasons to suspect he will honor the victims and try to console their families before sketching out a very vague legislative package to make it harder for would-be mass shooters to acquire firearms.
In those Monday tweets, he even suggested adding firearm background check language to an immigration overhaul bill.
“We cannot let those killed in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, die in vain. Likewise for those so seriously wounded. We can never forget them, and those many who came before them. Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying....” Trump tweeted. “....this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform. We must have something good, if not GREAT, come out of these two tragic events!”
A senior White House official declined to provide additional details, and did not signal whether Trump might endorse existing background check overhaul bills.
We cannot let those killed in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, die in vain. Likewise for those so seriously wounded. We can never forget them, and those many who came before them. Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2019
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., on Sunday said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should “call the Senate back for an emergency session” to debate and pass a House-passed background checks bill.
That measure, which passed the House in February, would require firearms dealers to wait 10 days to get a response from a federal background check system before completing the sale of a gun. Under existing law, they are not required to wait more than three days.
McConnell, however, has blocked that and other gun-control legislation. Trump could call on the Kentucky Republican, who is recovering from a fractured shoulder he suffered in a weekend fall, to call the Senate back into session to vote on that — or some other — bill. Both chambers are taking their annual summer break.
GOP Sen. Pat Toomey and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin have had legislation ready to go for years that would make changes to the background check system. The president could endorse the Pennsylvania and West Virginia senators’ measure, perhaps even suggesting how he would alter it, and ask McConnell to bring it to a vote.
But he has criticized the measure before.
After 17 students and teachers were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day 2018, the president said he would seriously consider signing legislation raising the age limit for assault rifle purchases.
But he also criticized Toomey in a tense Cabinet Room back-and-forth, saying the GOP senator and other lawmakers in the room are “afraid of the NRA.”
Though he never got behind any specific legislation, Trump on that day urged lawmakers who have authored various bills to address school shootings and gun violence to consolidate their ideas in a single bill that he can sign into law.
“This is ridiculous,” Trump said then. “We got to stop this nonsense — it’s time.”
But he and lawmakers, other than banning “bump stock” devices that turn semi-automatic guns into machine guns, have done nothing legislatively. And after two more mass shootings, 29 more Americans are dead.
Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.