As cameras rolled during a Wednesday meeting at the White House, Donald Trump broke with Republican and NRA orthodoxy numerous times, seeming to not even know the far-reaching implications of what he was saying. Trump endorsed a bipartisan background check bill, raising the age limit for purchasing certain firearms from 18 to 21 and asked Republicans to spike their own concealed carry bill. At one point, he challenged Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who had co-sponsored the background check legislation, asking him, “You’re afraid of the NRA, right?”
“No, no,” Toomey responded.
Policy specifics and goals aside, Trump appeared restive and eager to pass anything. His most shocking pronouncement came on the issue of keeping guns out of the hands of people with mental health issues. “I like taking guns away early,” Trump said. “Take the guns first, go through due process second.” He went so far as to propose that his party – the largely NRA-sponsored-GOP – buck contemporary congressional norms and roll 15 or so of the radically divergent measures floating around the Capitol into one tidy “comprehensive” gun-control bill.
None of it sat well with skeptical, card-carrying-NRA Republicans. “Well, it’s easier said than done,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the Senate’s number two Republican, tells Rolling Stone. “I do think the most important message the president gave us is, ‘We have to act’ and that going home empty handed is not an option.”
A number of progressive lawmakers gleefully listened to Trump issue new marching orders to his fellow Republicans. As Trump was on TV endorsing many Democratic gun-control priorities, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) was visibly smirking, as she later confirmed to Rolling Stone. “I think you saw the president clearly saying, not once, not twice, not three times but like 10 times, saying that he wanted to see a strong universal background check bill,” Minnesota’s senior senator says. “He didn’t mince words about it.”
The shock of Trump’s shift on guns wasn’t lost on the vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Nothing that comes out of this White House surprises me,” Democratic Sen. Mark Warner tells Rolling Stone. “But this might be the first time I’m pleasantly surprised.”