Donald Trump suggested actively confiscating some people’s guns with no due process and made a host of other random pronouncements during a wild, freewheeling meeting with members of Congress on Wednesday in which the president’s eagerness to appear “tough” in the wake of the Parkland shooting—as well as his complete lack of policy knowledge—appeared to overwhelm his usual instincts to back the National Rifle Association to the hilt.
“I like taking the guns early, like in this crazy man’s case that just took place in Florida. He had a lot of files—[law enforcement officials] saw everything. To go to court would have taken a long time,” Trump insisted, interrupting Vice President Mike Pence to deliver a line that, had President Obama said it, would have been splashed across NRA fundraising literature for decades.
“Take the guns first. Go through due process second,” Trump reiterated.
It was far from the only instance during the nearly hour-long meeting where Trump’s single-minded obliviousness only served to steamroll the increasingly dismayed GOP representatives from the House and Senate.
Repeatedly stating that he wanted a single “comprehensive” gun control bill—one built on the foundation of bipartisan background check legislation being pushed by Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Pat Toomey—Trump seemed to shock some in the room when he rejected Republican House Whip Steve Scalise’s insistence on pushing a bill that would allow concealed-carry gun usage across state lines—a major NRA priority.
“I think that maybe that bill will someday pass, but it should pass as a separate—if you’re gonna put concealed carry between states into this bill, we’re talking about a whole new ballgame,” Trump interrupted Scalise. “I’m with you but let it be a separate bill. You’ll never get this passed.”
Time and again during the meeting, Trump played up the NRA’s supposed leverage over Congress, while simultaneously insisting that he, himself, was immune to their power. “You have a different president now,” he proclaimed at one point.
Insisting he wanted a “strong” bill, Trump seemed shockingly open to Senator Amy Klobuchar’s call to add provisions about domestic violence to gun legislation. He was similarly receptive to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who repeatedly pressed the president on banning assault weapons altogether.
Which isn’t to say the meeting was a wholesale win for gun control advocates.
Trump repeatedly returned to his ludicrous idea that arming teachers would make schools safer, suggesting that most school shooters are “cowards” who would be deterred by the threat of violence. Trump also trashed “gun-free zones” and enthusiastically backed suggestions by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Rep. Marcia Blackburn that the entertainment industry was to blame for American gun violence.
The other big reason gun reform proponents shouldn’t cheer too loud is that there’s a big change none of this will matter. If Trump’s similarly surreal immigration roundtable last month is any indication, nothing said at today’s meeting will have any serious impact moving forward. With Trump, it’s frequently about who has the last word when it comes to matters of policy, and the president’s advisers—to say nothing of his recent lunch buddies from the NRA—are sure to put their foot down on anything but the most insignificant gun control measures possible.
Still, it was nice to watch Mike Pence, Steve Scalise, and Marco Rubio squirm while the president seemingly embraced almost every Democratic idea pitched to him.