White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Monday pushed back against suggestions that the White House’s newly-released school safety proposals amount to a retreat for President Donald Trump in the face of pressure from the National Rifle Association.
“Right now the president’s primary focus is on pushing through things that we know have broad bipartisan support or things that we can do from an administrative perspective that we can do immediately,” Sanders said. “But we haven’t let go of some of those other things that we’re going to continue to review and look at.”
Among those ideas, which Trump had expressed vocal support for in a Feb. 28 meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers, is raising the age on gun purchases, universal background checks and taking guns from those identified as a security threat without consideration of due process.
Multiple lawmakers, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, who sat alongside Trump at the February meeting, have accused the president of backing down after holding a private meeting with top members of the NRA.
“To no one’s surprise, the president’s words of support for stronger gun safety laws proved to be hollow. Responding to the murder of 17 students and educators by endorsing the gun lobby’s platform is a shameful abdication of the president’s responsibility to lead. Shame on you, Mr. President,” Feinstein said in a statement.
Sanders insisted that the age limit increase is still included in the proposal, though its only mention is on the list of issues that will be considered by a commission chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
“The president, as you know, doesn’t have the ability to just create federal law, and he would need a number of other individuals to come together to help make that happen,” Sanders said. “So what he is pushing forward are things that can immediately be accomplished.”
Sanders also explained a tweet the president sent earlier on Monday in which he claimed that there was little political support for raising the age to buy an assault weapon, despite multiple polls showing well over 70% of Americans would favor such a proposal.
“He’s talking about Congress who actually has the ability to make law, not online polls,” Sanders said.
At one point, Sanders was asked outright by a reporter why Trump “chickened out,” but she insisted his ideas in the meeting were still a part of the plan.
“He hasn’t backed away from these things at all,” Sanders said. “They’re still outlined in the plan. But he can’t make them happen with a broad stroke of the pen.”
Late Thursday, the Justice Department announced what it called “new actions” to boost school safety and fight gun violence but what is mostly a renewed push for federal prosecutions and information assistance from state and local law enforcement.
Over the next day or two, Attorney General Sessions will be sending letters to U.S. Attorney offices, other federal and state officials related to the renewed push.
In addition, DOJ announced that $1 million in DOJ funds are being sent to Florida to help local law enforcement repay costs associated with the school massacre in Parkland.