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No one knows where Trump is on guns -- perhaps including Trump

No one knows exactly where President Donald Trump will come down on new gun policy and that uncertainty is causing problems in Washington.

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Dan Merica (CNN)
WASHINGTON (CNN) — No one knows exactly where President Donald Trump will come down on new gun policy and that uncertainty is causing problems in Washington.

On Wednesday, Trump flummoxed Republicans by expressing openness to a myriad of Democrat-sponsored proposals during an hourlong televised White House meeting with lawmakers.

On Thursday night, he met with National Rifle Association leaders, who tweeted afterward: "POTUS & VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don't want gun control."

But Trump said the opposite on Wednesday.

"Take the guns first, go through due process second," he had said.

On Friday, two days after Trump's freewheeling meeting on guns with lawmakers at the White House, press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters that nothing had changed in the President's view on new gun laws.

Which left reporters scratching their heads -- nothing had changed ... from what?

Policy rollout

The White House rollout is also expected to include a plan to fund school grant programs to help protect against shootings and an endorsement of the "Fix NICS" bill, a proposal from Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, and Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, that would improve reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

The effort inside the White House is being led by Andrew Bremberg and his team at the Domestic Policy Council, Marc Short and his White House Legislative Affairs team and Sanders and her communications team, a White House official said.

The official added that it's unlikely the White House will back raising the minimum age of purchase for certain firearms from 18 to 21 years old.

"I think the President continues to support, as he said, the 21 years old, but I think there is also probably a lack of support for that right now, so that may be a longer term effort," the official said.

The official said, however, that things aren't certain and the team "hasn't rule it out yet."

But, in light of Trump's meeting, there is uncertainty in where that effort goes.

One source said officials are trying to get the President back to where he was on the issue before the meeting in order to make sure their planned rollout meets his's views.

The subtext to the uncertainty around the White House policy rollout is that Trump was so all over the place on Wednesday that it made it impossible for the White House staff to come up with specific proposals that would comport with what he said during the meeting and what he has previously proposed.

And that is a feeling throughout Washington, where Republicans and Democrats alike have said Trump's wavering on guns -- between tying himself to the powerful National Rifle Association and proposing gun changes that are anathema to most Republicans -- has complicated a debate that is in need of Presidential leadership.

The NRA spent heavily in support of Trump in the 2016 presidential election.


Republican lawmakers who attended Wednesday's session described the meeting as "surreal" and a made-for-TV moment. Democratic lawmakers said they were surprised by some of the positions Trump took and their aides were baffled by the uncertainty in the room.

Since then, Trump has been working the phones and using the aura of the White House to get back on track.

Trump called Cornyn, the Republican member behind a bill to strengthen background checks, on Thursday night to reiterate his support for the so-called "Fix NICS" bill.

Trump and Cornyn had talked multiple times this week about guns, multiple sources told CNN.

The President also huddled in the Oval Office with two top NRA officials -- CEO Wayne LaPierre and its top lobbyist Chris Cox, to discuss where he currently stands on passing a guns package.

White House officials declined to provide a readout of the meeting, but one official did say that chief of staff John Kelly and Short, Trump's top legislative aide, were both in the room.

Scramble mode

But the White House -- behind the scenes -- is in full scramble mode as aides work to figure out exactly what the President would be willing to sign on to as the nation looks for answers weeks after 17 people were killed during a school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Top White House aides had planned to roll out Trump's guns and school safety proposals by the end of the week, but Wednesday's hourlong meeting -- where the President endorsed taking guns away from mentally ill Americans before a judge had a chance to weigh in and backed passing a comprehensive gun control package -- set those plans back, multiple sources told CNN.

The issue, sources said, was that Trump took positions during the meeting that were different than what his top aides had been working on. And the meeting was aired in full by multiple news outlets, making it even more difficult for the White House to walk back the President's positions.

Trump has been all over the map on guns for the better part of two decades.

"I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun," he wrote in his 2000 book, "The America We Deserve." "With today's Internet technology, we should be able to tell within 72 hours if a potential gun owner has a record."

Trump disavowed those statements during the 2016 campaign.

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