WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump pressed key members of Congress on Wednesday to pass a comprehensive bill to make schools safer and prevent another mass shooting in the wake of last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 dead.
The White House invited several lawmakers from both houses and parties to discuss how lawmakers could work together, including two of D.C.’s strongest boosters for gun control, Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. Both Democrats have been stalwart proponents of an assault weapons ban.
Trump seated himself between Feinstein and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who introduced legislation to fix the National Instant Criminal Background Check System after it failed to flag a Texas church shooter who was able to buy firearms though he had been court-martialed for domestic violence.
Over an hourlong session in the Roosevelt Room, Trump suggested there would be fewer school shootings if school employees were armed, bashed gun-free zones and mused about raising the age for purchasing long guns from 18 to 21. The president repeatedly asserted his belief that mentally ill individuals should not have guns.
Democrats pushed Trump to consider an assault weapons ban, while Republicans spoke about law-abiding gun owners who are not a danger to the public and suggested the president focus on violence in the entertainment industry.
The president assigned Murphy, Cornyn, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to produce a comprehensive bill, adding, “I will sign it.”
Last year, Trump told a bipartisan group of lawmakers he would sign whatever bill Congress sent him to continue President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals order that granted legal status to some undocumented immigrants brought into the United States when they were minors. Later Trump sabotaged those efforts so that no bill has made it to his desk.
Painful personal experiences
Included in the bipartisan group were a GOP congressman and Democratic senator with painful personal experiences with gun violence.
In June, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House majority whip, was severely injured when a Trump-hating gunman targeted Republicans during an early morning practice for a charity baseball game. The gunman also shot at two Capitol police officers, a congressional staffer and lobbyist before police killed him.
Feinstein revisited 1978 because she was in San Francisco City Hall when Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were shot and killed. As president of the board of supervisors, Feinstein then became San Francisco’s first female mayor.
As a senator, Feinstein successfully sponsored the 1994 federal assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. Her repeated attempts to revive the ban have failed, in part because the ban’s passage is credited with Democrats’ loss of control over the House in 1994 for the first time in four decades.
Scalise emerged with a different view about gun laws. He urged Trump to consider supporting the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would allow concealed-carry permits to cross state lines.
Trump quickly kiboshed Scalise’s suggestion. “Maybe that bill will some day pass,” Trump told Scalise, but it should pass separately rather than doom a compromise measure.
On the issue of “bump stocks,” devices used in the Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas, which left 58 dead, Trump told lawmakers not to bother including language to limit the devices because “we can do that with an executive order.”
It is not clear, however, that Trump can make the change without a new law as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has determined it does not have authority to ban bump stocks.
Working to get a deal
The meeting showed Trump as the president he hinted he could become on the campaign trail. He reached out to members of both parties. He showed himself ready to buck an entrenched GOP interest — the National Rifle Association — though its leaders had helped him win the Electoral College.
Most of all, he worked to get a deal.
Trump repeatedly expressed his surprise that Washington lawmakers failed to enact legislation to prevent mass shootings after previous episodes. He suggested that President Barack Obama did not provide “presidential backup” to get a bill passed after a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
Murphy repeatedly credited the NRA with killing federal gun legislation.
Trump asserted that, unlike others in the room, he was not afraid of the NRA. Trump singled out Toomey, who with Manchin carried legislation in 2013 to expand background checks for gun shows and online sales, because he did not propose raising the age to buy “the type of weapon used in a school shooting” from 18 to 21, as Trump was doing.
“You know why, because you’re afraid of the NRA,” Trump told Toomey.
At the same time, Trump seemed unaware of what was in the Toomey-Manchin bill.
On Monday, Manchin told West Virginia’s MetroNews that he did not want to reintroduce the bill – which garnered 54 votes but not the 60 needed to bring the bill to a floor vote — unless Trump “signs on” beforehand.
“Congressional Republicans have everything they need to pass these bipartisan proposals and send them to President Trump’s desk,” Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was severely wounded in a mass shooting in 2011, said in a statement. “If there is no movement, the only possible excuse will be that these elected officials are more interested in protecting the interests of the corporate gun lobby than in saving the lives of children.”
The guest list
The White House invited these lawmakers to attend Wednesday’s White House event:
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.
Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla.
Rep. Elizabeth Esty-D-Conn.
Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla.
Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla.
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La.