In a meeting with senators from both parties on Wednesday afternoon, President Donald Trump seemed to abandon many of the hardline gun positions he adopted during the 2016 campaign. He repeatedly said he was in favor of “comprehensive gun control” and encouraged senators from both parties to combine legislation into an omnibus proposal. He told Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, that he had left a proposal to prevent people under the age of 21 from buying weapons out of gun control legislation because he was “afraid of the NRA.” And he encouraged confiscating weapons before legal and mental health reviews are undertaken.
“Take the firearms first and then go to court,” he said. “A lot of times by the time you go to court, it takes so long to go to court, to get the due process procedures. I like taking the guns early.”
One of the most persistent cliches of the Trump administration has been “Can you imagine if Obama had said that?” But it can be a useful framework. If Obama had advocated confiscating firearms without due process, cable news would have fixated on the comment for months. Trump’s remark faded from view in a matter of hours. By 5 p.m., communications director Hope Hicks’s departure from the White House was leading the news.
Trump has a penchant for embracing liberal priorities in meetings like these, and showing a willingness to succeed where other administrations have failed. Earlier this year, he appeared to endorse a number of liberal immigration proposals, instructing senators to craft a “bill of love”—and nothing came of it. What these meetings show is just how little sway Trump’s comments have. He may have pushed senators to embrace “comprehensive gun control,” but no one—neither Republicans, Democrats, nor the media—seems to be taking his directives very seriously.