In a freewheeling, televised meeting with lawmakers at the White House on Wednesday, President Trump endorsed several gun control policies, including raising the minimum age for assault weapons purchases, strengthening background checks, and confiscating firearms from people who may be mentally ill or dangerous.
“I like taking the guns early,” he said, making the Republican lawmakers in the room visibly uncomfortable. “Take the guns first, go through due process second.”
When they returned to Capitol Hill from the meeting, Republican senators expressed outrage and anxiety about that remark.
While some, like Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) insisted the President “must have misspoke,” others said they heard Trump loud and clear and did not like what they heard.
“I was ready to grab my Constitution and say, ‘Wait a minute!'” Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) told TPM. “We must stand firmly for the Second Amendment rights of the American people.”
Republican lawmakers who were not in the meeting seemed alarmed as well.
“In this country, you always have due process first,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), who also bristled at the President’s suggestion in the meeting that he and his Republican colleagues are “afraid of the NRA.”
“Not at all. Not at all,” he repeated firmly, stepping into an elevator in the Capitol’s basement.
Many senators on both sides of the aisle who for years have unsuccessfully pushed legislation to strengthen background checks said they were encouraged by Trump’s seeming endorsement Wednesday, though they cautioned that the President has a pattern of backing a policy one day and walking back that stance a few days or hours later.
“President Trump was very, very supportive of our bill, the substance of it. He was encouraging us to move this,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) said of his background check bill, which failed in a dramatic vote in 2013 due to GOP opposition. “With [Trump’s] support, I think we can get it across the goal line.”
But despite the President lobbying hard, for the moment, for gun control measures, several Republican lawmakers say they remain unmoved, and will vote against the Toomey bill, a bill to raise the minimum age for buying guns, and any other measure that restricts firearm purchases.
“The only thing worse than doing nothing is doing something that provides a false sense of security,” Daines told TPM. “I’m concerned that many of the ideas talked about in that meeting do not solve the problem of keeping kids safe in our schools.”
Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) echoed Daines’ skepticism of Trump’s proposals that may soon come to the floor for a vote.
“I’m not going to join the bandwagon of feel-good legislation,” he said. “I don’t want to give people false hope, and I don’t want to kid them about what really happened in Florida, where there was a breakdown of the system. I honestly don’t believe we need more gun control. Criminals and bad people obey gun laws like politicians keep promises.”