Trump embraces NRA on guns and GOP on lower taxes

President Donald Trump

By Alexis Simendinger

President Trump threw some curveballs at Congress on Tuesday, softening his already tentative push for tougher bipartisan measures to thwart mass shootings and reviving his enthusiasm for economic stimulus through tax cuts, even as he insists the go-go economy is not heading toward recession.

Enactment of gun restrictions and adoption of major new tax cuts are each seen as highly unlikely before next year’s elections, especially without intense commitments from Trump to cut politically dicey deals with Congress.

Bucking his conservative base on expanded gun background checks poses political risks, and the president sounded on Tuesday like a candidate who was disinterested in adding risk to his reelection terrain. On cutting taxes, Trump is in a bind. He’s told supporters the U.S. economy is in great shape, yet he’s nervous enough about a downturn to express enthusiasm for slashing payroll or capital gains taxes, both non-starters in a House led by Democrats.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week called the House back early to work on Sept. 4 to dive into tougher gun measures, and members of the Senate on both sides of the aisle are working to draft legislation to promote “red flag” laws, which permit law enforcement to confiscate weapons from people who may be a threat to themselves or others. It’s unclear if the GOP-led Senate will put any gun measure on the floor without Trump’s forceful advocacy.

The odds of that seemed to fade as the president, pressured by the National Rifle Association, mused aloud about a legislative “slippery slope” that could undercut the GOP’s solidarity behind gun rights. Trump’s comments retreated from remarks he made immediately after shootings earlier this month in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, when he said he could support “intelligent” gun background checks and advocated addressing mental illness.

“A lot of the people that put me where I am are strong believers in the Second Amendment and I am also,” the president said in the Oval Office on Tuesday, noting he’s been reminded of concerns from his base. “They call it the slippery slope, and all of a sudden everything gets taken away. We’re not going to let that happen,” he said (The Hill).

The Hill: Hobbled NRA shows strength with Trump.

The Atlantic: Trump on Tuesday phoned the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre to say universal background checks are off the table, adding he wants to focus on “increasing funding” for mental-health care and directing attorneys general across the country to start prosecuting “gun crime” through federal firearms charges.

The New York Times: After lobbying by gun rights advocates, Trump sounds a familiar retreat.

The Washington Post: Parkland, Fla., students unveil a sweeping gun-control proposal and ambition for a youth voting surge in 2020.

Niall Stanage: Polls flash warning signs for Trump.

Much more appealing to the president’s GOP supporters, especially if the economy contracts, might be talk of lowering tax burdens. A day after the president’s aides tried to tamp down reports that cutting payroll tax cuts was under serious discussion at the White House, Trump said it was indeed an idea under serious discussion, at least this week. He also mentioned his long-running enthusiasm for lowering taxes on capital gains (The Hill). Trump said he might not need Congress to index capital gains to inflation (Reuters).

The president’s interest in building tax-code fortresses against potential political jeopardy could influence his fall agenda with Congress. One idea Trump resists: retreating from U.S. tariff punishments against China, which most economists agree contribute to slower U.S. economic growth.

Those economic fears could give China greater leverage in negotiations. Beijing has warned that if the U.S. doesn’t lift the tariffs, China will continue to retaliate through the election, and it has already imposed retaliatory tariffs and stopped buying U.S. agriculture products (NBC News).

The Associated Press: President acknowledges China policies may mean U.S. economic pain.

The Washington Post: Fact-checking Trump’s remarks on the economy (spoiler alert: the attorney general in 1993 wrote that a president cannot index capital gains without Congress).

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