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Trump meets with NRA, tells group what it wants to hear

On the NRA, Donald Trump told senators this week, "They have great power over you people. They have less power over me." He then proved the opposite.
Donald Trump speaks during the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Harrison McClary/Reuters).
Donald Trump speaks during the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn. on Apr. 10, 2015. 

At his White House meeting with senators on Wednesday about gun policy, Donald Trump offered hearty praise for the National Rifle Association, but seemed eager to suggest he doesn't really care whether the NRA is satisfied with his agenda or not.

"They do have great power, I agree with that," the president said of the far-right group and its members. "They have great power over you people. They have less power over me."

At one point during the discussion, when Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) explained his bipartisan background-check bill, Trump effectively mocked his ostensible ally, telling the Republican his proposal didn't deal with age limits "because you're afraid of the NRA."

Soon after, referring to no one in particular, the president added, "Some of you people are petrified of the NRA."

Just one day later, Trump welcomed NRA representatives into the Oval Office, and while we don't know exactly what was said, the far-right lobbying group certainly seemed pleased.

The top lobbyist for the National Rifle Association claimed late Thursday that President Trump had retreated from his surprising support a day earlier for gun control measures after a meeting with N.R.A. officials and Vice President Mike Pence in the Oval Office.The lobbyist, Chris Cox, posted on Twitter just after 9 p.m. that he met with Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence, saying that "we all want safe schools, mental health reform and to keep guns away from dangerous people. POTUS & VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don't want gun control. #NRA #MAGA."

Around the same time, Trump boasted about the "good (great) meeting" he had with the NRA's lobbyist.

The New York Times' report noted that the twin messages "suggest that it may have taken the gun rights group only a little over a day to persuade the president to back away from his apparent embrace of gun control during a remarkable, televised meeting on Wednesday with members of Congress."

I think "suggest" is the right word under the circumstances, because Trump himself doesn't seem to know what he wants, or even intends, to do on gun policy.

After the mass shooting in Parkland, he called for action, but stuck to vague generalities. When the president started pointing to specific ideas, the White House took steps to backtrack.

On Wednesday, Trump seemed eager to embrace progressive reforms, bucking the NRA, only to meet privately with the NRA a day later, and apparently tell the group what it wanted to hear.

One of the more common criticisms of the president from public officials is that he invariably agrees with the last person he talks to, even if he said the opposite to the person before. There's no great mystery as to why this happens -- Trump doesn't know or care about public policy -- but on guns, he's going out of his way to prove that those criticisms are accurate.

For their part, Senate Democrats yesterday unveiled a package of reforms, including universal background checks and a debate on assault weapons, because these are the exact ideas the Republican president expressed support for a day earlier. In effect, the Dems' plan is a put-up-or-shut-up challenge to Trump.

I think we know which option the president will choose.