Trump says McConnell ‘totally on board’ with background checks

President dismisses possibility of NRA opposition to legislation

President Donald Trump says Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is “totally on board” with “intelligent background checks,” but a Senate aide says McConnell hasn’t endorsed “anything specific.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
President Donald Trump says Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is “totally on board” with “intelligent background checks,” but a Senate aide says McConnell hasn’t endorsed “anything specific.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 9, 2019 at 9:04am

President Donald Trump on Friday gave perhaps his strongest endorsement yet of a background checks overhaul bill for firearms purchases, and predicted Republican lawmakers would “lead” on the issue despite opposition from the National Rifle Association.

“Frankly, we need intelligent background checks. This isn’t a question of NRA, Republican or Democrat. I spoke to [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell yesterday. … He is totally on board,” the president told reporters as he left the White House for a 10-day working vacation.

A Senate aide noted Friday that McConnell “didn’t endorse anything specific yesterday,” saying the majority leader “spoke about broad policy areas where he thinks we can make a law.”

Trump contended some “hard-line” GOP senators have told him they are ready to support a background checks bill, but he did not name names. Many Republicans have been the beneficiaries of ample campaign cash from the gun lobby.

“The Republicans are looking at it very seriously,” the president said, calling NRA officials “great people” and “great patriots.” 

Trump said he had a “good conversation” Thursday with NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, saying the organization “in the end, will either be there, or be … neutral.” He broke with NRA leaders and members who worry a new background check bill would start the country down a “slippery slope” of ever-eroding gun rights.

“I don’t agree with that,” Trump said.

The president also contended he has a “great relationship with the NRA,” noting that he put two Supreme Court justices on the high court who strongly support the Second Amendment.

Earlier Friday, Trump tweeted that House and Senate leaders, as well as White House officials, were having “serious discussions” about a “meaningful” background checks overhaul bill — but the powerful NRA was also in the mix.

McConnell told a Kentucky radio station on Thursday that background checks will be “front and center” when the chamber returns from its August recess next month. But he did not commit to bringing anything to the floor or having votes. McConnell did, however, mention talking to the president and said Trump is eager for congressional action.

No special session

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday evening released a joint statement saying they had spoken separately to the president and asked him to bring the Senate back from recess to take up a House-passed universal background checks bill.

They said Trump “gave us his assurances that he would review” the bill.

Trump said Friday he sees no reason to call the House and Senate back into session to take up a background checks bill. He said by the time both chambers got ready to return early, “they’d be back anyway.” And McConnell said Thursday he has no intention of bringing the Senate back early.

House Democrats, having already passed a bill requiring background checks for more gun purchases, have begun exploring the gun violence issue from other angles.

On Friday, the Oversight and Reform Committee announced an investigation and sent a letter to Regina Lombardo, the acting deputy director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, asking for documents from 2014 onward about the sale of guns involved in crimes.

“Many guns involved in crimes are sold by federal firearms licensees … to straw purchasers or unlicensed sellers who then transfer those guns to people who commit violent crimes,” Oversight Chairman Elijah E. Cummings wrote. “The committee is gravely concerned that current law enforcement efforts are not adequately addressing this crisis.”

The Oversight panel investigation comes after the Homeland Security Committee announced earlier this week its action plan for addressing domestic terrorism, including a series of August site visits and roundtables in communities where attacks have occurred. The Judiciary Committee is also considering an early return from recess to mark up additional gun safety legislation.

Trump promised “meaningful” changes to beef up the background check process but was not specific. He said he is “looking” at a bipartisan package from GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia. He cited “goodwill” on both sides as the basis of his prediction that Congress will send him a bill.

The president tweeted Monday morning that he wanted to attach a background checks bill to immigration legislation, but he did not mention such a measure later in the morning when he addressed the country about last weekend’s shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that collectively left 31 people dead.

Asked about charges that he is too welcoming of support from white supremacist groups — the El Paso shooter left an anti-immigrant screed that echoed some of Trump’s past statements — the president said, “I don’t like it when they do it because I’m not any of those things. I think it’s a disgrace.” Such allegations, according to Trump, merely show “how desperate the Democrats are.”

[After shootings, Trump again shows he prefers political brawler to consoler in chief]

On Friday, Trump tweeted that he would like to sign a bipartisan background checks bill.

“Guns should not be placed in the hands of………mentally ill or deranged people,” he said. “I am the biggest Second Amendment person there is, but we all must work together for the good and safety of our Country.”

[Trump dings Biden during post-shootings trip, as lawmakers handle visits differently]

“Common sense things can be done that are good for everyone!” he added. 

NRA input

Trump also said is “speaking to the NRA” and other groups so their “strong views can be fully represented and respected.”

The NRA is influential in Republican circles and opposes most proposals to enact stricter federal background checks for firearm purchases.

The organization donates vast amounts to Republican politicians and candidates, far more than it gives to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

For instance, in the 2016 cycle the NRA gave more than $1 million to GOP candidates — but just $10,500 to Democrats, according to In the 2018 cycle, it donated over $853,000 to Republicans — and just over $19,500 to Democrats.

LaPierre said in a statement late Thursday that he wasn’t inclined to discuss private conversations with Trump or other leaders on the issue, “but I can confirm that the NRA opposes any legislation that unfairly infringes upon the rights of law-abiding citizens. The inconvenient truth is this: The proposals being discussed by many would not have prevented the horrific tragedies in El Paso and Dayton. Worse, they would make millions of law abiding Americans less safe and less able to defend themselves and their loved ones.”

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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