President Trump sparred with Republican lawmakers during a rare, televised bipartisan gathering on gun control and school safety Wednesday, dismissing GOP pleas to include concealed carry proposals in a sweeping gun package while making clear he doesn’t “have to agree on everything” with the National Rifle Association.
“I’m a fan of the NRA,” Trump told lawmakers at the White House. “There’s no bigger fan. I’m a big fan of the NRA. These are great people, these great patriots. They love our country. But that doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.”
During the meeting, which also included prominent Democrats, Trump told House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., who was gravely injured in a mass shooting this summer, that a comprehensive gun bill would not pass if it included a concealed carry reciprocity proposal desired by Republicans.
“You know, I’m your biggest fan in the whole world,” Trump told Scalise. “I think that bill maybe one day will pass, but it should pass as a separate. If you’re going to put concealed carry between states into this bill, we’re talking about a whole new ball game.”
Trump added: “I’m with you, but let it be a separate bill.”
His comments come as Fox News has learned the White House plans to roll out specific policy proposals on Thursday aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of people who should not have them. Among the proposals are some that may put him at odds with the NRA, the powerful pro-gun organization that was a frequent topic during the meeting.
At one point during Wednesday’s session, Trump told Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey: “You are afraid of the NRA.”
At the beginning of the meeting, Trump said he wanted the lawmakers around the table with him “to come up with some ideas” and put them into “a very bipartisan bill.”
“It would be so beautiful to have one bill that everybody could support as opposed to, you know, 15 bills,” he said.
Trump has been pushing some new gun restrictions in the wake of this month’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in which 17 people were killed. He emphasized his commitment to strengthening background checks for gun buyers and dealing with the mentally ill.
“What surprises me more than anything else is that nothing’s been done for all of these years,” Trump told the lawmakers. “Because I really see a lot of common ground where there’s Democrat, Republican.”
According to sources, the White House proposal will include raising the minimum age for buying long guns to 21 from 18 — a proposal that Trump acknowledged is opposed by the NRA. Trump will also call for training and arming certain members of school faculty and staff, either through federal grants to states or a federal training program.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Trump said “we must harden out schools” against attacks, calling for arming some staff at schools.
Speaking of the Pulse nightclub shooting in September 2016 that killed 49 people, Trump said: “If you had one person in that room that could carry a gun and knew how to use it, it wouldn’t have happened. Or certainly not to the extent it did, where he was just shooting and shooting and shooting and they were defenseless.”
On Thursday, Trump is also expected to reiterate his support for a bill that bolsters the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. He also will back the STOP School Violence Act, which gives the Justice Department grants for preventing school violence.
The president said Wednesday he will get rid “bump stocks,” saying they will “be gone shortly.” The firearm modifiers, which can make a semi-automatic weapon fire nearly as rapidly as a fully automatic machine gun, were used in the Oct. 1, 2017, Las Vegas massacre, in which 58 people were killed and hundreds more injured.
Trump will also call for fixing the FBI’s tipster program, amid revelations that the bureau received multiple tips about the youth accused of shooting up the Parkland school ahead of that massacre but failed to stop him.
In addition, the president is also expected to encourage states to create laws for extreme-risk protective orders, which would allow parents and law enforcement to petition courts to take weapons away from anyone threatening to harm themselves or others.
Republicans lawmakers at the meeting included: John Cornyn of Texas; Steve Danies of Montana; Chuck Grassley of Iowa; Marco Rubio of Florida; Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania; Orrin Hatch of Utah; Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee; Brian Mast of Florida, John Rutherford of Florida and Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
Democrats included Dianne Feinstein of California; Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; Chris Murphy of Connecticut; Ted Deutch of Florida; Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut and Stephanie Murphy of Florida.
Lawmakers pitching their ideas on gun control told Trump their proposals could pass if he expressed his support. The president contrasted himself to past presidents, accusing former President Obama of not being “proactive” in getting a bill passed.
“It’s time that a president stepped up… I’m talking Democrat and Republican presidents,” Trump said. “They have not stepped up.”
Trump expressed a willingness to be open to proposals from Democrats that Republicans usually reject outright, telling Feinstein he would review her assault weapons ban legislation. But he remained non-committal when pressed by Feinstein, telling her to discuss her plans with her congressional colleagues.
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Trump cowboy plots political future after Capitol breach
TULAROSA, N.M. — He rodeoed in a Buffalo Bill-style Wild West show, carried his message on horseback from the Holy Land to Times Square and was invited to the White House to meet the president.
But luck may have run out for this cowboy pastor who rode to national political fame by embracing former President Donald Trump with a series of horseback caravans and came crashing down with a defiant stand Jan. 6 against President Joe Biden’s election.
Today, Couy Griffin is divorced, disparaged by family and confronts a political recall drive, a state corruption investigation and federal charges.
And yet he remains determined. He sees himself as governor one day.
The first-term county commissioner forged a group of rodeo acquaintances in 2019 into a promotional Cowboys for Trump posse to spread his conservative message about gun rights, immigration controls and abortion restrictions.
Trump’s election defeat has left the 47-year-old father in a lonely fight for his political life after preaching to crowds at the U.S. Capitol siege, promising to take his guns to Biden’s inauguration and landing in jail for over a week.
In Washington, prosecutors unveiled photographs of Griffin climbing a toppled fence and another barrier to access the Capitol steps.
Public defense attorneys say a close reading of the law shows the area wasn’t off limits. They say Griffin didn’t partake in violence and was well within his free speech rights as he voiced election grievances and attempted to lead a prayer with a bullhorn.
Griffin is one of thousands of Trump loyalists in public office who are charting an uncertain future ahead of the 2022 election cycle. He’s part of a smaller cadre who flirted with insurrection on Trump’s behalf and may still pay a high price. In all, more than 400 people were charged in the insurrection, which left five dead and dozens of officers injured.
Griffin has been rebuked by some Republicans over his racial invective. He’s also been suspended from Facebook and banished from Native American lands in his district as he contests charges of breaking into the Capitol grounds and disrupting Congress that could carry a one-year sentence. A recall effort is underway, amid a bevy of lawsuits.
Still, loyal constituents are easy to come by in a rural county steeped in the anti-establishment, pro-gun culture that dominates southern New Mexico.
“He means no malice on anybody,” said George Seeds, outside the New Heart Cowboy Church in Alamogordo where Griffin once served as pastor. “His concern is the direction of this country, where it’s going.”
Defiance of federal government and its oversight of public lands are staples of politics in Otero County, which spans an area three times the size of Delaware, from the dunes of White Sands National Park to the peaks of the Lincoln National Forest.
Banned from Washington until testimony or trial, Griffin has returned to the routines of home in a tidy double-wide trailer in Tularosa, working most days as a stone mason. A donkey named Henry brays from a side yard.
In a conversation with The Associated Press, Griffin says he learned to love the spotlight during five years as an expert rodeo hand in a Wild West show at Paris’ Disneyland park.
His rides with Cowboys for Trump through numerous states were a reprise of proselytizing trips he made from Ireland to Jerusalem, before social media, to hand out the Gospel of John.
The group captivated the public imagination with its first outing, a 2019 flag-waving ride down the shore of the Potomac River to Arlington National Cemetery.
Ramie Harper, a 67-year-old former bull rider from Fruitland, took a break from making custom hats to join the caravan.
“They loved it,” Harper said. “We was on ‘Fox & Friends’ the next day.”
With calls for an independent investigation of the Capitol siege blocked by Senate Republicans, Griffin is out on bail and speaking his mind.
He’s an advocate for stricter state voting laws and a die-hard opponent of COVID-19 restrictions who says “hell no” to taking the vaccine.
Griffin still wears a monogrammed Cowboys for Trump shirt to commission meetings. But his allegiance to Trump has wavered.
“I don’t have the same confidence in him,” Griffin said. “Whenever you say, ‘China stole the election. … The election was stolen from me,’ and then you just walk away? That’s hard for me to accept.”
He says his obsession with politics has taken a toll, contributing to his 2019 divorce and tensions with relatives.
“I’ve had my own family say some pretty nasty things,” Griffin said. “It’s been real hard.”
With Trump or without, Griffin still ascribes to unsubstantiated claims of massive 2020 election fraud.
He yearns to someday run for governor even though state GOP leaders are openly scornful and Democrats hold every statewide elected office.
More immediately, Griffin is eyeing an open 2022 sheriff’s race in another New Mexico county where he grew up. His grandfather Wee Griffin held the Catron County post from 1963 to 1966. Trump won there in 2020 with 73% of the vote.
Griffin has cast Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as his political nemesis on issues of gun control, abortion and pandemic restrictions. He’d like to reinvent the sheriff’s role as a brake on the governor’s power.
“The county sheriff’s sole duty and responsibility is to protect our individual rights,” he said. “You think that the governor hates me as a county commissioner — put a gun and a badge on me, and we’ll see.”
Jeff Swanson, chairman of the Otero County Democratic Party, says Griffin’s divisive remarks hinder county efforts to secure state infrastructure spending, and he has engaged in intimidation by recording Cowboys for Trump videos from his office with a shotgun within view.
In Alamogordo, Griffin’s rhetoric on race has steeled the determination of opponents who want him out of office.
Griffin delivered a scathing rebuke last year as the NFL announced game-opening renditions of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the Black national anthem.
“They want to destroy our country,” Griffin said in a video monologue. “I got a better idea. Why don’t you go back to Africa and form your little football teams. … You can play on an old beat-out dirt lot.”
Everette Brown, a Marine veteran and information technology specialist at Holloman Air Force Base who is Black, said that comment shows politics have changed Griffin, whom he once respected.
“I’m a big boy. I can handle a lot. And that was one that got me,” said Brown, part of a committee seeking to recall Griffin.
For now, Griffin has halted the petition with an appeal to the state Supreme Court, which hasn’t decided whether to intervene. Meanwhile, state prosecutors are investigating allegations Griffin used his office in coordination with Cowboys for Trump for personal financial gain, and signed a child-support check to his ex-wife from his Cowboys for Trump account.
Griffin has acknowledged using the county building for promotional videos but said he never claimed they were affiliated with Otero County. He also says Cowboys for Trump is a for-profit company, not a political group.
Donnie Reynolds, a 51-year-old sales associate at an Alamogordo hardware store, says Griffin is being targeted for ties to Trump.
He says Griffin is right about lots of things, like the need for a border wall.
“They’re going find out he didn’t have anything to do with these types of things,” he said. “They’re going to eat some crow.”
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