As background checks talks stall, Trump casts Beto O’Rourke as scapegoat

POTUS: Candidate’s debate remark ‘Convinced many that Dems just want to take your guns away’

Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke speaks during a town hall event in Alexandria, Va., in April. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke speaks during a town hall event in Alexandria, Va., in April. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 18, 2019 at 9:17am

If Washington fails to enact legislation to strengthen federal firearms background checks or otherwise deal with mass shootings, President Donald Trump suggests the blame will fall on a former House Democrat who wants his job.

With talks toward a measure that could pass a Democratic-controlled House and a GOP-run Senate showing no tangible signs of progress, Trump has vacillated from supporting beefed-up background checks to endorsing a amorphous plan focused on mental health issues he says is the root cause of mass gun massacres.

But, mostly, he has sown confusion. Members of both parties on Capitol Hill — echoed by state and local officials who have been to the White House to discuss the issue — say they emerge from discussions with no clue what Trump would sign into law.

On Wednesday morning, just after 5 a.m. in California — where the president is holding fundraisers and touring a portion of border barrier later Wednesday — Trump suggested if talks fail to produce a bill, it will be former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s fault.

[Still confused about Trump’s demands of Congress? Maybe it’s you]

“Dummy Beto made it much harder to make a deal,” Trump tweeted.

He was referring to a call O’Rourke made for a federal mandatory buy-back program for certain firearms during the last Democratic presidential primary debate, which stirred up Trump’s pro-guns conservative base.

“Hell yes we are going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke, who has struggled to gain a footing among his party’s frontrunners, said last week at the Houston debate. “We are not going to allow it to be used against fellow Americans anymore.”

ABC News anchor David Muir had just asked O’Rourke if he is “proposing taking away their guns and how would this work?”

“I am,” the candidate replied. “If it is a weapon that was designed to kill people on a battlefield. If they [have] high-impact, high-velocity rounds [and] when it hits your body, shreds everything inside of your body because it was designed to do that so that you would bleed to death on a battlefield and not be able to get up and kill one of our soldiers.”

Since, conservatives have posted memes on Facebook and other social media sites declaring they won’t allow O’Rourke or any other Democratic politicians to disarm them, citing the Second Amendment.

Trump on Wednesday tweeted that O’Rourke’s comment merely “Convinced many that Dems just want to take your guns away.” Still, the president vowed he and his team “Will continue forward!”

To that end, White House aides on Tuesday declined to lay out any timeline for when the president might release a plan for either bolstering the background check system or attempt to address mental health issues experts contend are evident in many mass-shooting gunmen — or both issues.

Attorney General William P. Barr and White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland were spotted Tuesday on Capitol Hill meeting with senators about mass shooting legislation.

[Trump mocks Elizabeth Warren’s NYC crowd: ‘Anybody could do that’]

“The president asked us to engage with the Hill,” Ueland told Roll Call before he and that AG entered the office of Missouri GOP Sen. Josh Hawley, a former state attorney general.

The freshman senator has said he supports stronger background checks, but opposes an assault weapons ban. To get a bill through Congress as an election cycle begins, the White House would need Republican members – 15, to be exact – like Hawley to supplement Democrats’ 45 votes to clear a 60-vote threshold.

“The president, as he assesses the best way ahead, the best set of policy proposals, is really looking for ideas that can make a significant difference, that are meaningful … to making progress here,” Ueland told Roll Call during an interview earlier this month. “If and when the president provides direction on the next steps, I’m sure that will be communicated out pretty directly.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer told Trump during a weekend phone call that their caucuses would only support a measure that includes a House-passed bill that bolsters background checks. The White House earlier this year issued a veto threat, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is refusing to give it a vote. 

As his pre-dawn tweetstorm entered its third hour, Trump announced he has instructed the Treasury Department to “substantially increase” sanctions on Iran as he and his administration signal Tehran was behind a missile attack on Saudi oil facilities.

“I have just instructed the Secretary of the Treasury to substantially increase Sanctions on the country of Iran!” the president tweeted.

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