Trump's Responses To Florida Shooting And WH Scandals Under Scrutiny

Feb 20, 2018
Originally published on February 20, 2018 9:05 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

And now to the White House where President Trump is responding to gun violence in the wake of the mass shooting at a Florida high school last week. At a ceremony for law enforcement officials, the president endorsed banning bump stocks, the device used by the man who killed 59 people on the Las Vegas Strip last year.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Just a few moments ago, I signed a memorandum directing the attorney general to propose regulations to ban all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns. I expect that these critical regulations will be finalized, Jeff, very soon.

SHAPIRO: The president has also said he's willing to consider improvements to the background check system. Joining us with more on Trump's response to the shooting is NPR's Mara Liasson at the White House. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there.

SHAPIRO: What exactly does this announcement on bump stocks mean?

LIASSON: What it means is that the device that the Las Vegas shooter used to make his weapon more lethal will be banned, as the president said. What this doesn't mean is that anything specifically that would have affected the shooting in Parkland, Fla., will be addressed. But the president is determined to send a message that he takes that shooting seriously, too. Here's what he said.

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TRUMP: School safety is a top priority for my administration. That is why when governors from across the nation visit the White House next week, we will be discussing at great length what the federal and state governments can do to keep our students safe.

LIASSON: The president didn't say gun safety. He said school safety. He said they're going to be talking about more security in schools, mental health issues, swift - taking swift action on warning signs. And the White House has also said he's open to making the background check system more efficient.

SHAPIRO: These issues have not been a big priority for the president even though there have been several mass shootings since he took office. So are we seeing something different now?

LIASSON: It's possible. But when I talk to people in the White House, they know there's a pattern here. These incidents happen. There's outrage and concern. Polls support gun control spikes up, and then it all fades away. There is a sense that this one could be different.

You've got a lot of articulate young people talking about marching on Washington in March, walking out of school. These are people who can speak for themselves unlike the Sandy Hook kids. They were little elementary school children. These teenagers are savvy on social media, and they're specifically criticizing politicians who are backed by the NRA. And of course we know the NRA is one of Trump's biggest donors, one of the most important cornerstones of his base. And for that reason, no one is predicting or expecting the president would go so far as to agree to reinstate the assault weapons ban.

But the press secretary Sarah Sanders said he wouldn't close the door on any front. That being said, it's important to note that just today as those students were on their way to Tallahassee, Fla., Florida legislators voted down an attempt to reinstate a bill that would have banned assault rifles in Florida.

SHAPIRO: I'd like to ask you about a different issue, which is Russia and the president's response to Friday's indictments of Russian nationals. The president has not called out Russia since those indictments were handed down. How does the White House explain that?

LIASSON: Well, as a matter of fact, not only has he not called out Russia. He's blamed President Obama for not doing more about Russian meddling which up until this weekend he was denying happened at all. Sarah Sanders today went to great lengths to say the president did accept that Russia interfered. What he's been protesting all this time was whether the interference had an impact, somehow undermining the legitimacy of his victory. And he's also been protesting the allegation that his campaign may have colluded with Russia.

The president also tweeted over the weekend that he had been tougher than President Obama on Russia. Sarah Sanders repeated that line today, said he's done more in one year to be tough on Russia than Obama had in eight years, which kind of strains credulity, especially since he's refused to put - enact the sanctions that Congress called for with an almost unanimous vote. But she said that rebuilding the military, selling arms to Ukraine - even though he hasn't called out Putin or Russia, he does seem to feel an urgency about convincing people that he has taken action against Russia even though he's been pretty conspicuously deferential to Putin all along.

SHAPIRO: So the press secretary Sarah Sanders offered some supporting material for what the president tweeted. But as you point out, the president himself still has not expressed outrage at Russia.

LIASSON: No, he hasn't. And as a matter of fact, his responses to this have been uniformly about himself and the legitimacy of his win, not about national security. Just as an example, his national security adviser went to the Munich Security Conference this weekend, did what any national security adviser would do - pushed back hard against Russia. But then the president tweeted a criticism of him, saying that H.R. McMaster forgot to mention that the medaling didn't have an effect on the outcome and that the only collusion was between crooked Hillary and Russia, not him.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Mara Liasson at the White House. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.