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Why It's Hard To Tell Where Trump Stands On Gun Control


Here are just two data points from a chaotic week. On Wednesday, President Trump held a televised meeting with lawmakers. He appeared to endorse gun legislation, including measures opposed by the NRA. He accused fellow Republicans of being afraid of the NRA. Well, then yesterday, Chris Cox, the top NRA lobbyist, dropped by the Oval Office. Cox came out saying that the president does not support gun control. And the president wrote on Twitter he had a, quote, "good, great meeting with the NRA." NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is here to help us figure this out. Hey, Tam.


GREENE: So do we know after these last few days where the president stands on gun control?

KEITH: Not exactly. So Chris Cox, the NRA lobbyist, came out of that meeting and, as you say, he tweeted that the president and vice president support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don't want gun control. Now...

GREENE: Seemed in very good spirits compared to what we thought the NRA was feeling just a day before.

KEITH: Well, that's because they had just talked to the president in the Oval Office late at night and apparently had a good meeting. And, you know, this follows, earlier in the week, President Trump had this televised meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers where he seemed to side with Democrats on all kinds of things, including - and he went farther than Democrats on this - the idea that you would take the guns first and go through due process second. He endorsed all sorts of legislation. Well, now today, Sarah Sanders, his spokesperson, who, we should say, doesn't always exactly represent the president's views - but she was on "Fox & Friends" and was asked, OK, what does the president support now?


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, the president's already expressed support for Senator Cornyn's legislation. He's also supported the Stop Gun Violence Act. Those are two pieces of legislation in their current form that the president supports. The Toomey bill he has not fully gotten on board with. They're still kind of working out some of the final pieces of that legislation. Until it gets into its final stage, we're not going to weigh in. But we're continuing to closely watch that.

GREENE: OK. So she's throwing out the names of a lot of bills there, Tam, but safe to say that she's talking about some of the things that the president had originally said he would support that the NRA is against.

KEITH: Yeah. So the first bill she talked about is a narrow change that would basically make it so that more information gets into the background check system. That has been even supported by the NRA. The Toomey bill that she's referring to is a more comprehensive background checks bill that, at that meeting on Wednesday, President Trump had said, hey, this should be the base bill. Add all kinds of other stuff into it and let's do something comprehensive. Now, the White House is saying, well, we don't really know if the president's going to support that bill or not.

GREENE: All right. I want to play you a little tape here and then ask you something. This is Republican Senator John Thune describing that televised meeting with the president where the president seemed to be siding with Democrats the other day.


JOHN THUNE: You guys saw - you saw it, right? It was - it was wild.

GREENE: I mean, he seems kind of perplexed. Is what Sarah Sanders said this morning going to help out Republicans as they look at this issue and try to figure out where the president is guiding them?

KEITH: Not necessarily. There's just not that much clarity. When things change from day to day and hour to hour, members of Congress aren't going to stick their necks out on an issue that isn't really, you know, on the Republican side, their issue. And already Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate has said that they aren't even going to vote next week on gun legislation as they had thought they might. They're moving on to a banking bill.

GREENE: And all of this comes, of course, in a week where there was a big personnel move at the White House - the resignation of Hope Hicks, the president's very close aide, maybe the most loyal person outside his family. She's leaving the White House. What does this say about the state of things on the Trump team and the president's inner circle?

KEITH: The president's inner circle has fewer and fewer true loyalists in it, and it seems like the president may not be listening to some of those people who are left. The move that he made this week, yesterday, on trade, sort of surprising everyone, making an announcement - he's wanted to do that for a long time. A lot of people have been telling him not to do it. And now, it seems like he's just doing what he wants to do.

GREENE: Including these tariffs that you mentioned on steel imports. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tam, thanks. We appreciate it.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.