President Trump wants to bring an assault weapons ban into the mix on gun control, a suggestion -- given the source -- that drew an uncontrolled and giddy laugh from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat, who pushed such a measure in 1994 and has long argued for its reinstatement after it lapsed in 2004.
What made Feinstein chuckle isn't the only thing that roiled the gun debate. CNN's Phil Mattingly made a list of all the reasons Republicans were frustrated after that latest wild White House meeting ended.
It's very hard to believe Trump's theatric attempt at bipartisan talks will change much and here's why: His grand promises and pledge to keep an open mind sounded a lot like the grand promises and pledge to keep an open mind on immigration earlier this year. He made similar noises when briefly reaching out to "Chuck and Nancy" last year on government spending. It goes like this: Trump opens the big tent as an opening bid, even if the rest of the table is already well into their negotiations, tries to scramble the talks, but then fails to close a deal.
Back to Wednesday and that meeting, which convened a short time after it became clear that even the narrowly tailored bipartisan gun control measure aimed at background checks was in real jeopardy in the Senate and a nonstarter in the House. Faced with the prospect of inaction, President Donald Trump held a bipartisan working group at the White House and threw a joker on the table.
Before Trump stunned the room, Feinstein had been talking about proposals for an assault weapons ban -- a conversation-ender for most Republicans.
Perhaps more palatable would be Sen. Amy Klobuchar's suggestion that they not just consider background checks, but also throw in curbs on domestic abusers.
From there, Trump suggested that Sen. Joe Manchin, the Democrat from West Virginia, who has been working on a bipartisan proposal for years with Sen. Pat Toomey, the Pennsylvania Republican - one that has nothing to do with the assault weapons ban - should throw both ideas into the mixer. Add a few paragraphs and fix it, the President said. Cue Feinstein's glee and, later, a rebuke from the NRA. Republicans are still confused and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday made clear he won't be talking about guns.
What exactly did Trump mean? Is he really going back to the drawing board and opening the door, offhandedly, to an assault weapons ban?
Um, no. Not if history is any guide. There's something of a pattern emerging and it goes like this: Trump holds a bipartisan event for the camera, says he's open to just about everything, gets some pushback from the GOP Congress, then nothing getting done.
Here's what it sounded like.
KLOBUCHAR: And so just doing something on this background check issue and using that as a base, and then I would like to add some of these other things we've talked about, I think, would make a major difference...
TRUMP: So if you can add that to this bill, that would be great. Dianne, if you could add what you have also and I think you can into the bill --
FEINSTEIN: Joe (Manchin), are you ready?
TRUMP: Can you do that? Joe, can you do that? Pat (Toomey)? Can you add some of the -- you're going to agree with.
FEINSTEIN: If you help.
TRUMP: Well no, I'll help, but can you add what Amy and what Dianne have? Can we add them in? And I know you can add what ...
KLOBUCHAR: I have another domestic violence bill that's very narrow, and it's about dating partners, and a number of states have just enacted it with Republican support.
TRUMP: I would say this, we're going to get it passed. We're going to get it passed. If you can add domestic violence paragraphs, pages into this bill, I'm all for it. I think it's terrific if you can do it. It can be done. That could be done too.
There you have it. The President of the United States just told a bipartisan group of senators to add ideas from Klobuchar (domestic abusers) and Feinstein (assault weapons) into their plan and said, "We're going to get it passed. ... I'm all for it. ... I think its terrific."
There is some precedent behind the pessimism here.
We've been here before
Take the most recent issue Congress tried (and failed) to address: immigration. Now here's the part about how this is becoming a pattern which suggests nothing will actually happen.
As the lines were being drawn on that issue, Trump had a bipartisan group of lawmakers to the White House to talk things out. Feinstein was there for that one, too!
And the President said a lot of things and made some bold promises, including that lawmakers were very close not just to a fix to keep the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, but also for border security.
He promised to get it done and said he'd take heat from conservatives, but he also said he'd sign whatever the lawmakers came up with. It was a master class in contradictions. CNN's Tal Kopan documented the various ways he played to both sides of the aisle during that immigration meeting.
But when push came to shove, he didn't end up taking any heat for a bipartisan deal, because there wasn't any he could abide. It wasn't long before he was actually standing in the way of bipartisan immigration deals. And so the immigration debate effectively ended in February with exactly zero legislative or executive actions.
Further complicating that particular deal is that during a closed-door bipartisan meeting two days later, he questioned the US system, which he said prioritized allowing in immigrants from "shithole" countries. Those comments took over the dialogue, making it nearly impossible politically for Democrats to go back to their base with a deal. Any remaining momentum withered as Trump drew a new hard line on what he wanted to see.
Sen. Lindsey Graham lamented Tuesday that Trump was teasing a bipartisan deal and on Thursday he was squashing it.
"Tuesday, we had a president that I was proud to golf with, call my friend, who understood immigration had to be bipartisan, you had to have border security as essential, you have border security with a wall, but he also understood the idea that we had to do it with compassion. I don't know where that guy went. I want him back." Graham complained to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in front of cameras on Capitol Hill.
As of this week, it appears the courts are in the driver seat on immigration. The Supreme Court allowed a stay blocking Trump's bid to end DACA to remain in place. How long that lasts, of course, is an open question - and a source of continued anxiety for DACA recipients in limbo.
A temporary deal
A less similar, but still notable example of Trump changing the debate midstream with entreaties to Democrats was back in September of 2017, when government funding talks were stalled. He freelanced a deal with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer -- "Chuck and Nancy" as he called them on Twitter at the time.
That one did lead to specific action -- the government was funded for a brief time, the debt ceiling was raised and money dispatched for hurricane relief. But it was a short-lived detente as the long-term spending bill hashed out this year was largely done between lawmakers and without the White House's help and/or meddling.
You haven't seen both Schumer and Pelosi at public White House meetings, since then, by the way.
- Trump's shocking bipartisan promises are starting to sound familiar
- Bernie Sanders' platform sounds strangely familiar
- Bernie Sanders' platform sounds strangely familiar
- McConnell touts bipartisan accomplishments
- Trump signs bipartisan water infrastructure spending law
- Trump announces support for bipartisan prison reform
- Senate passes bipartisan opioid package
- Trump promises 'steadfast' Saudi relationship
- The Poway synagogue attack feels sickeningly familiar