Trump sees 'serious discussions' on background checks, but NRA balks

President Donald Trump speaks about immigration as Vice President Mike Pence looks on during a meeting with the National Space Council on Monday, June 18, 2018 in the East Room of the White House, in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday said House and Senate leaders, as well as White House officials, are having “serious discussions” about a “meaningful” background checks overhaul bill — but the powerful National Rifle Association is also in the mix.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told a radio station on Thursday that background checks will be “front and center” when the chamber returns from its August recess next month. But he never committed to bringing anything to the floor or having votes. McConnell did, however, mention talking to the president and saying Trump is eager for congressional action.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House 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.

The president tweeted Monday morning that he wants 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 left 31 dead.

But Trump since has returned to the topic, saying he would like to sign a bipartisan background checks bill.

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

Trump, however, has yet to publicly explain just what he would sign into law. He was vague again Friday as he prepared to leave the White House around 9:30 a.m. for a 10-day “working vacation” at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort.

“Common sense things can be done that are good for everyone!” Trump tweeted. He has yet to spell out his definition of “common sense,” but he has said he would not call Congress back early from its August recess unless leaders in both chambers and the White House are “close” to a deal. And McConnell said Thursday he has no intention to bring the Senate back early.

But in a possible roadblock toward a deal, Trump wrote he 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 firearms 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. In the 2018 cycle, it donated over $853,000 to Republicans — and just over $19,500 to Democrats, according to the center.

NRA CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne 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.”

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