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White House appears weary of Trump administration's gun plan

The Trump administration has a proposal to expand background checks on all gun purchases. The Trump White House is already distancing itself from the plan.
A prospective buyer examines an AR-15 at the "Ready Gunner" gun store In Provo, Utah, June 21, 2016. (Photo by George Frey/Reuters)
A prospective buyer examines an AR-15 at the "Ready Gunner" gun store In Provo, Utah, June 21, 2016.

The Trump administration has spent the last several weeks assuring people that it's working on a package of gun reforms, the details of which have been kept largely under wraps. With this in mind, it was an important development yesterday when a variety of outlets, including NBC News, reviewed a draft Justice Department proposal that would expand background checks.

The measure appeared to be surprisingly ambitious and very much in line with recent legislative efforts in this area, applying background checks to "all commercial sales, including sales at gun shows."

The plan is being circulated on Capitol Hill, and the gradual unveiling has included a series of meetings between Republican senators, Attorney General Bill Barr, and White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland. Not surprisingly, GOP lawmakers seem skeptical.

Senate Republicans are treading cautiously on a background checks plan floated by Attorney General William Barr.... GOP lawmakers, for their part, were decidedly noncommittal, with several saying they still wanted to hear what Trump would back.

The NRA was less circumspect.

The National Rifle Association, weakened but still influential among conservatives, immediately dismissed the plan drafted by the Justice Department as a non-starter.

What I found especially interesting, however, was the degree to which the Trump White House appeared weary of the Trump administration's plan. As Slate's Jim Newell explained:

Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, told reporters that the document was just some old document and not anything that President Donald Trump was supporting or pushing -- "not even close." A few hours later, Gidley had erected a total firewall between the White House and the piece of paper: "That is not a White House document, and any suggestion to contrary is completely false."

Of course, if the White House has nothing to do with the Justice Department's draft, it necessarily raises the question of why the White House's legislative affairs director was on Capitol Hill talking to lawmakers about it.

Indeed, it was almost comical yesterday watching Team Trump finesse its current position. We started with a plan from the Justice Department, which quickly was downgraded to a proposal. By mid-day, Barr met with Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who told reporters the attorney general didn't actually have a proposal, "so much as an idea."

It's an idea, evidently, that the president and his team are reluctant to fully support, unless they believe there's an appetite for background checks among Senate Republicans. Those same GOP senators, meanwhile, are equally skittish, waiting to see if Trump is prepared to stick out his neck on this issue and provide them with some political cover.

None of the people involved will be nominated for a Profile in Courage Award anytime soon.

Meanwhile, on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Donald Trump is blaming presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) for pushing an idea for a mandatory assault-weapons buy-back program. The president tweeted yesterday the mere suggestion makes it "much harder" for policymakers to reach an agreement.

Trump didn't say why, and his argument didn't seem to make any sense. A presidential candidate, down in the polls, touted an idea Republicans don't like, and we're supposed to believe this is going to derail an entire legislative initiative? It sounds more like a president making a preemptive excuse for failure than a credible assessment of a plan's legislative prospects.