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Democrats Point To Trump's Changing Position On Background Checks

NOEL KING, HOST:

Right after the mass shooting in El Paso earlier this month, Republican leaders, most notably President Trump, talked positively about the idea of tighter restrictions on gun ownership, including background checks. Here's President Trump at the time.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There's a great appetite - and I mean a very strong appetite - for background checks. And I think we can bring up background checks like we've never had before.

KING: But since then, the president has given conflicting statements about his commitment to background checks. In remarks this week, President Trump said he was working with Democrats, Republicans and the NRA on the issue. Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy is one of the Democrats that the president has been working with. Good morning, Senator.

CHRIS MURPHY: Good morning.

KING: Have you talked directly to the president about gun policy?

MURPHY: I have. The president called me about a week after the Dayton and El Paso massacres, expressed to me what he had said publicly - his desire to move something significant on background checks, his recognition that, in order to get 60 votes in the Senate, he was going to have to endorse a specific proposal and bring Republicans along. I understand that there's been a bunch of reporting and statements from the president that has perhaps suggested in the last week that he's walked that back.

But I was on the phone with the White House throughout the week as early as last night. And I believe that they still have a goal of trying to move something forward that increases the number of background checks that are done in this country. I'm not sure if they'll end up following through on that commitment. But I'm going to try to hold them to what I believe is still their word, to try to bring Republicans and Democrats together on this.

KING: The president, though, has talked before about tightening restrictions on who can own a gun. After the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., he told reporters, we want to be very powerful on background checks. And then nothing happened. So why do you think that this time might be different?

MURPHY: So I don't know that this time will be different. I was at the White House right after Parkland in that televised meeting, where the president endorsed a major increase in the number of background checks. And then the NRA walked into his office 24 hours later, and he had changed his mind. That may happen again this time.

But I know that if we were able to increase the number of gun sales that require a background check, we would save lives. The stakes are life and death. And so if there's any chance that the White House is willing to endorse a proposal, I feel like I have an obligation to try to ferret that out. And I also know that the only way that you get any significant number of Republicans in the Senate to vote for a background checks bill, like the one that's already passed the House of Representatives, it only comes with the president's imprimatur on that legislation.

KING: When the president talked this week about who he's working with on background checks, he notably did not mention survivors' groups or people who oppose the NRA. Are you comfortable taking part in negotiations that don't have those voices included?

MURPHY: I'm not comfortable with that. I will encourage the president and the White House to reach out to those groups. And I've also told them very clearly that if they're going to give the NRA veto power on gun legislation, then this isn't a conversation worth having. I'm sure the president's going to talk to Wayne LaPierre. But ultimately, you can't expect that they're going to sign off on anything that is actually going to impact violence in America in a meaningful way.

KING: Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Senator, thanks so much.

MURPHY: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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