President Trump reportedly called embattled NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre on Tuesday to tell him universal background checks were off the table as a legislative response to the shootings in El Paso and Dayton.
The call, reported by The Atlantic, is the latest, and most direct, case of Trump backing away from a proposal that he seemed to embrace in the aftermath of those two recent mass shootings. And it left officials on the Hill scrambling for answers. One office that has consulted with the White House on background checks legislation said it had not been informed that the president was shelving the idea, despite the report.
“Senator Manchin and his team are taking their lead from the president and have not been told to stand down on background checks,” said Jonathan Kott, a spokesman for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the chief Democratic sponsor on the major bipartisan background checks legislation.
A tweet from the NRA, authored by LaPierre, confirmed that the call took place but did not go into specifics. However, officials at the gun group did tell other outlets that Trump made the pledge to not pursue universal background checks.
A senior White House official told The Daily Beast on Tuesday evening that “the call [between Trump and LaPierre] occurred” but quibbled with the contents and the technicalities of what the president did or did not take off the table. “The president has not mentioned supporting universal background checks. Meaningful background checks remain on the table,” this official added. The official and the White House have yet to define what “meaningful” checks would entail.
A Senate aide also noted that The Atlantic report had Trump saying “universal” background checks were off the table—which would not, necessarily, preclude work on the legislation Manchin has drafted with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA). Nevertheless, the aide conceded that there was growing resignation that Trump had moved on from his initial pledge to tackle comprehensive gun reform. After all, the writing has been on the wall for several days.
According to The Atlantic, Trump previously had a phone call with LaPierre on Aug. 7 to discuss the idea of universal background checks. The concept had reportedly been discussed within the White House, spearheaded by Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump. The prospect of a televised Rose Garden ceremony where Trump would sign a document on the measure was floated internally, but killed when LaPierre told Trump that the NRA would not support universal background checks.
Instead, the president is reportedly focused on boosting funding for mental health screenings and encouraging the Justice Department to increase its prosecution of federal gun crimes. On Sunday, Trump told reporters on Sunday that the U.S. already had strong policies in place.
“People don’t realize, we have very strong background checks right now. You go in to buy a gun, you have to sign up,” he said. “There are a lot of background checks that have been approved over the years, so I’ll have to see what it is.”