Tuesday 21 August 2018

Trump may surprise us all as the president who crosses swords with NRA

Donald Trump’s infamous crib card.
Donald Trump’s infamous crib card.

David Millward

It was perhaps unfortunate that the crib card Donald Trump was holding when he met those affected by the Parkland shooting was spotted - and snapped - by Chip Somodevilla, a Getty Images photographer.

On the face of it, the prompts looked rather trite, culminating with point five: "I hear you." It left the impression that this was little more than an exercise in public relations rather than a desire to tackle the endemic problem of gun violence in America.

But events over the past 24 hours suggest that this is doing the US president an injustice.

Not only was he in "listening mode" but he was determined to do something, even if it meant falling out with his generous friends at the National Rifle Association (NRA), which donated $30m (€24m) to his campaign. On live television, he left the gun lobby group and Republicans reeling as - to the delight of many Democrats - he backed a raft of controls.

He produced a shopping list of measures which is anathema to the NRA, including restricting gun sales for young adults, tighter background checks, keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill, and a possible ban on assault weapons.

Trump's most radical proposal was to allow weapons to be seized from people who pose a threat to themselves and others without a court order.

"I like taking the guns early," he said, adding: "Take the guns first, go through due process second."

The reaction was predictable. The NRA called it good television and bad policy. His erstwhile cheerleaders at Breitbart were apoplectic, publishing an article headlined 'Trump the gun grabber'. Yet according to the latest polling data, there is overwhelming support for stricter controls, with 97pc of respondents backing universal background checks and 67pc supporting a ban on assault weapons.

The question remains: can Donald Trump deliver what voters clearly want? This is where it gets tricky.

In many ways, his volte-face over guns is another vignette illustrating the strengths and weaknesses of his presidency. Trump - as he admits himself - is a rookie politician, at times inclined to react emotionally and instinctively.

Horrified by the images of the suffering caused by the nerve gas attack ordered by Bashar al-Assad, Trump launched cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase. Clearly shaken by not only the Parkland shooting but the force with which bereaved families pressed their case, Trump issued his call to action.

But in doing so there is a danger that he has promised far more than he is able to deliver because of the complexities of the American political system.

An array of gun control measures is already stalled in Congress with, as things stand, little chance of seeing the light of day.

This is largely due to a convention, known as the Hastert Rule, which prevents any measure being brought to the floor of the House of Representatives unless it is backed by a majority of the majority party.

Put simply, Trump is stuck unless he can persuade 120 Republican members of the House of Representatives to support him. His only other hope is to put enough pressure on Paul Ryan, the House speaker, to waive the convention.

Like many members of Congress, Ryan has been a beneficiary of the NRA's largesse. Even if some measures are brought to the floor of the House, a number of senior Republicans have made it pretty clear that they are not likely to co-operate. They include Steve Scalise, the Republican congressman who sustained serious injuries after being shot while practising ahead of a politicians' charity baseball game.

That is not to say all is completely lost. Trump could use his powers as president to bring in some curbs via an executive order. Experts suggest this could, for example, be used to ban bump stocks which turn assault weapons into machine guns. He could also instruct the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, an agency of the Department of Justice, to tighten its enforcement of existing laws.

Trump's other hope is that the force of his personality and the wave of public anger at the latest school shooting will concentrate minds during an election year, with every member of the House of Representatives having to face the voters. Until Parkland, many members of Congress were reluctant to fall out with the NRA and its five million members. Now, however, association with the gun lobbyists is seen as toxic.

Leading companies have distanced themselves from the NRA as has Trump. Congressional candidates would be well advised to follow their example if they want to be returned to Washington in November. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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Irish Independent

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