WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday he believes he has influence to rally Republicans around stronger federal background check laws as Congress and the White House work on a response to last weekend’s mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.
At the same time, Trump said he had assured the National Rifle Association that its gun-rights views would be “fully represented and respected.” He said he was hopeful the NRA would not be an obstacle to strengthening the nation’s gun laws.
Trump has promised to lead on tougher gun control measures before, including after the 2018 Parkland, Florida, school shooting, but little has come of it. His comments in the wake of the twin massacres marked his most optimistic and supportive words in favor of more stringent gun laws, though he left the details vague and it remained to be seen how much political capital Trump would throw behind marshaling Republicans on the issue.
He said Friday he now is looking for “very meaningful background checks” but is not considering a resurrection of an assault weapons ban. He said he also believes lawmakers will support “red flag” laws that allow guns to be removed from those who may be a danger to themselves and others.
“I see a better feeling right now toward getting something meaningful done,” Trump told reporters when asked why the political environment was different now.
“I have a greater influence now over the Senate and the House,” he said at the White House.
Democrats and others have been skeptical of Trump’s commitment to genuine gun control, judging from past experience. But he said he was behind it.
“The Republicans are going to be great and lead the charge along with the Democrats,” he declared, saying he’d spoken with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell whom he proclaimed to be “totally onboard.”
But McConnell, thus far, has only committed to a discussion of the issue. Republicans have long opposed expanding background checks — a bill passed by the Democratic-led House is stalled in McConnell’s Senate — but they face new pressure after the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, that left 31 people dead.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted in response Friday that McConnell must bring up the House-passed legislation, which Trump had previously threatened to veto. “To get anything meaningful done to address gun violence, we need his commitment to hold a Senate vote on the House-passed background checks legislation,” Schumer said.
As for the NRA, which has contributed millions to help Trump and other Republicans, the gun lobby’s chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, said this week that some federal gun control proposals “would make millions of law-abiding Americans less safe and less able to defend themselves and their loved ones.”
But Trump said he’d spoken with LaPierre this week and “I think in the end, Wayne and the NRA will either be there or either be a little more neutral.”
“Frankly, I really think they’re going to get there also,” he added.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader McConnell said he now wants background checks and other action, setting up a potentially pivotal moment when lawmakers return in the fall.
The Republican leader won’t be calling senators back to work early, as some are demanding. But he told a Kentucky radio station that Trump called him Thursday morning and they talked about several ideas. The president, he said, is “anxious to get an outcome and so am I.”
“What we can’t do is fail to pass something,” McConnell said.
Traveling with Trump to New York, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said he intended to discuss the issue with the president over the weekend. He said he’s in favor of a state-run list system that would prohibit certain people from buying guns.
“I just think the space to do nothing is gone,” he said. “And that’s a good thing.”
McConnell said he and Trump discussed background checks and “red flag” laws. “Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass,” McConnell told Louisville’s WHAS-AM.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Schumer said Trump assured them in phone calls Thursday he will review the House-passed bill that would expand federal background checks for firearm sales.
In a joint statement, they said Trump called them individually after Pelosi sent a letter asking the president to order the Senate back to Washington to consider gun violence measures.
Schumer and Pelosi said they told Trump the best immediate step would be for the Senate to take up and pass the House bill. Trump, they said, “understood our interest in moving as quickly as possible to help save lives.”
The politics of gun control are shifting amid the frequency and toll of mass shootings. Spending to support candidates backing tougher gun control measures — mostly Democrats — surged in the 2018 midterms, even as campaign spending by the NRA declined.
The NRA says proposals being discussed in Congress would not have prevented the shootings in Texas and Ohio.
McConnell rejected the idea of reconvening the Senate, saying calling senators back now would just lead to people “scoring points and nothing would happen.”
Instead, the GOP leader wants to spend the August recess talking with Democratic and Republican senators to see what’s possible. Senators have been talking among themselves, and holding conference calls, to sort out strategy.
Some Republicans, though, pushed back on the idea of expanding background checks or approving a “red flag” law.
“I want to make sure we protect our constitutional rights and whatever comes up will actually help solve a problem,” John Barrasso, the No. 3 Senate Republican, told reporters Friday. “I have a lot of concerns about the due process component of (red flag laws) and I don’t want to punish law-abiding citizens.”
The Wyoming senator has long opposed expanding background checks for gun sales and said, “I don’t expect things have changed much.”
The politics of gun violence are difficult for Republicans, including McConnell. He could risk losing support as he seeks reelection in Kentucky if he were to back restricting access to firearms and ammunition. Other Republicans, including those in Colorado, Maine and swing states, also would face difficult votes, despite the clamor for gun laws.
Tyler residents may have noticed something a little strange on their morning commutes over the past few weeks — several hundred students in the parking lot of Robert E. Lee High School running formation drills at the crack of dawn.
That’s because marching band season starts well before the school year begins.
Giving up the opportunity to sleep late for the last month of summer vacation doesn’t bother these musicians at all.
Head drum major Micah Leary said it’s one of her favorite times of the year. Going into her senior year, she now helps lead the routines.
“I would not (want to) be doing anything else,” she said. “I look forward to it every year.”
For Leary, the season started even earlier as she and fellow drum majors and section heads learned leadership skills earlier this summer.
“I’ve learned a lot of management and people skills,” she said. “You can’t talk to everyone the same. It also taught me that you are going to make mistakes and you have to just keep moving.”
She said the biggest skill incoming freshmen will learn is time management. Already they’re practicing with the rest of the marching band, even though they haven’t technically started high school yet.
“They’ll have to learn to juggle stuff. It really makes you accountable,” she said. “Band is not not going to happen and your quiz (the next day) is not not going to happen, either.”
Director of Bands Sam Labordus said managing 200 students plus prospective members is a privilege.
“This is their band program, I’m just lucky enough to be part of it,” Labordus said.
Labordus said the band members in leadership positions take on big roles and help shape the program each year. He instills in them a sense of ownership, reminding them that someday he’ll retire or they’ll graduate and the band will still be here.
As part of their present and the school’s legacy, he wants leaders to model character for their peers.
“We feel strongly about teaching character and respect through music,” he said. “The kids aren’t out here because they have to be. They choose to.”
Getting incoming freshmen excited about the program starts in middle school. Labordus spends his free periods visiting the feeder schools in Lee’s attendance zone and getting to know future marching band members.
“That way they already know me and what I’m about, and they trust me,” he said.
Practices have to start early because the band will take to the field during the first week of school and also has its annual March-A-Thon fundraiser set for just four days after classes start.
The March-A-Thon, which will be Saturday, Aug. 24, will see the students parading through neighborhoods playing mini concerts for residents in the area.
School starts back for Tyler ISD on Monday, Aug. 19.
Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and former Vice President Joe Biden are neck and neck in the polls among the state’s Democratic voters.
O’Rourke is the preferred candidate of 25.2% of Texans who plan to vote in the March Democratic primary, while Biden is preferred by 23%.
The poll was conducted between Aug. 1 and 4. It reached 1,261 registered voters and has a 2.8% margin of error at a 95% confidence interval. Results are weighted to accurately represent Texas adults.
O’Rourke and Biden were followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (16%), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (10.3%), Sen. Kamala Harris (5.3%), former U.S. housing secretary Julian Castro (4%), South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg (3.9%) and Sen. Cory Booker (2.3%).
The Texas primary is Tuesday, March 3, a day known in politics as Super Tuesday, when 14 states hold their presidential primaries. It’s one of the most important days in presidential primaries because of the large number of primaries happening.
Candidates who win primaries in each state win delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Delegates are proportional to state population, and Texas is the second-largest state with a primary on Super Tuesday, behind California.
Mark Owens, the co-director of the Center for Opinion Research, said it’s likely that Democrats are going with the candidates they know best — the former U.S. Senate candidate, the former vice president and the 2016 presidential candidate.
The center also compared the results of the August poll, which took place after the second Democratic debate, with a July poll. Three hundred and thirty of the people identifying as Democrats who took the August poll also participated in the July poll. There were not enough Republican-identifying voters who took both polls to perform the same analysis.
Owens said the results show that Democrat-leaning Texans are learning more about other candidates through debates and news coverage. In some cases, Texans polled said the debate was the reason they chose to change their preferred candidate from July to August.
“Anytime we see O’Rourke, Biden and Sanders as the top three, people are still going back to the default, the names that they know,” Owens said. “O’Rourke and Biden’s numbers, they still maintain the lead, but it’s a little bit less than it was the month before.”
In July, O’Rourke and Biden polled — at 26.5% and 24.4%, respectively — higher than their August numbers. However, several other candidates saw upticks in their support from July to August.
Sanders went from 15.4% to 16%; Castro from 3.3% to 4%; Buttigieg from 1.5% to 3.9%; and Booker from 1.3% to 2.3%.
Meanwhile, Warren’s support decreased from 10.6% to 10.3%, and Harris from 8.5% to 5.3%.
Among people who took both polls, 18% switched their No. 1 candidate from July to August, and 13% said they did so because of the debate. Owens said it’s likely the other 5% were influenced through news coverage.
Respondents said that regardless of their preference, the top debate performers were Warren (18.5%), O’Rourke (18.2%), Biden (15.2%), Sanders (14.8%) and Harris (9.4%).
UT Tyler also analyzed support for candidates by race, ethnicity, gender and income level.
The results show that Warren does best with middle- and high-income voters, while Sanders and Biden do best with low- and middle-income voters. O’Rourke has consistent support among all three income levels.
Among Hispanic voters, O’Rourke is more popular than Castro. Thirty-five percent of Hispanic men and 30.4% of Hispanic women support O’Rourke, while 7.7% of Hispanic men and 8% of Hispanic women support Castro.
The percentage of those polled who believed that O’Rourke or Castro should drop out of the presidential race increased after the debate.
In July, 21.1% said Castro should drop out, compared with 29.6% in August, while 55.9% said he should run against Sen. John Cornyn in July, compared with 69.3% in August.
Fewer thought O’Rourke should drop out — 24.8% in July and 25.8% in August — but more thought he should run against Cornyn —73.1% in July compared with 71.1% in August.
The full poll results are available at https://bit.ly/2YNRRFq.
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