“Look, the president still has in this plan the age limit increase,” Sanders told reporters during a media briefing, “and that is part of one of the things that will be — one of those things [that] will be reviewed on what the best path forward is on that front, whether it can be done at a federal level or whether it needs to be done on a state-by-state basis.
“But the president, as you know, doesn’t have the ability to just create federal law, and he would need a number of other individuals to come together to help make that happen. So what he is pushing forward are things that can immediately be accomplished, either through the administration or that have broad-based bipartisan support in Congress. But that doesn’t mean he has wiped away some of those other things that we’re still looking at how we can best move forward on.”
As The Fix’s Amber Phillips wrote before Monday's briefing, Trump’s softening on gun control was entirely predictable. In a shameless act of patting myself on the back, I will point out that I wrote two weeks ago that Trump’s backtrack on the age requirement, in particular, had already begun.
It has been apparent for a while that the White House is laying a foundation for the day when it will say Trump supported a higher age restriction “in concept” (Sanders’s phrase) but could not make age 21 a reality, for one reason or another.
On Monday, Sanders insisted Trump “hasn’t backed away ... at all” and repeatedly said the president is merely “pushing through things that we know have broad bipartisan support or things that we can do from an administrative perspective that we can do immediately.”
The trouble with Sanders’s spin was illustrated vividly in this exchange with the Wall Street Journal's Michael Bender:
BENDER: On the age restrictions, the president has said a couple of times — he’s criticized his predecessors, saying they haven’t shown leadership on this issue. So I wondered now how you can make the political expediency argument for his school safety policy, and that he’s specifically backing only things he thinks can pass and not things that may need some additional leadership.SANDERS: That’s actually not what I said. We’re specifically driving forward on some of those things that we know can immediately happen, and we’re determining the best path forward on some of those other things that don’t have that same broad base of support.
“Specifically backing only things he thinks can pass” sounds an awful lot like “specifically driving forward on some of those things that we know can immediately happen.” Yet Sanders quibbled with Bender’s paraphrase. Only by coating Trump’s plan in positive language like “driving forward” and “immediately happen” can his spokeswoman sell it as anything but an indication of the president’s unwillingness to fight for a policy that the National Rifle Association strongly opposes.
“Well, there’s Sarah Sanders at the press briefing talking about gun control and the president’s position, and that’s not true — it’s just not factually accurate,” Fox News anchor Shepard Smith told viewers at the conclusion of the question-and-answer session. “There is broad-based support for raising the gun age limit. ... The president said to the kids at Parkland, ‘I'll go strong on this. I'll work on this age thing.’ He came up to the general public and said to the Congress, ‘Oh, the NRA has a lot of pressure on you, has a lot of effect on you, but not on me so much.’ And then he met with the NRA.”
Smith is an exception on Fox News. Still, to see the White House’s spin so forcefully rejected on the president’s favorite network is to appreciate just how weak it is.