President Donald Trump met in the White House on Friday with Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the National Rifle Association, and discussed prospective gun legislation and whether the NRA could provide support for the president as he faces impeachment and a more difficult reelection campaign, according to two people familiar with the meeting.
During the meeting, LaPierre asked that the White House “stop the games” over gun control legislation, people familiar with the meeting said. It was not clear whether Trump asked LaPierre for his support or what that support would look like.
In a statement Friday evening, an NRA spokesman confirmed the meeting took place but insisted The New York Times’ account of the meeting was “inaccurate.” He pushed back on the account of some officials that any offer of support for the president was in exchange for opposition to gun laws.
“The NRA categorically denies any discussion occurred about special arrangements pertaining to the NRA’s support of the president and vice versa,” the statement said.
LaPierre has been a leader in an aggressive campaign by gun rights advocates to influence the White House in the months since the back-to-back mass shootings in Texas and Ohio. In a series of calls and meetings, he has tried to move Trump away from proposing any sort of background check measures akin to what the president said after the mass shootings he might support.
Even before the launch of a formal impeachment inquiry, LaPierre’s influence on Trump has been clear. After a 30-minute phone call last month, Trump appeared to be espousing NRA talking points when answering questions about guns.
“We have very, very strong background checks right now, but we have sort of missing areas and areas that don’t complete the whole circle,” the president told reporters last month, adding, “I have to tell you that it’s a mental problem.”
Privately, Trump has raised questions with his aides about the NRA’s ability to help back his 2020 campaign the way it did in 2016, when it poured over $30 million into his election, more than any other outside group. He has voiced concerns that the group looks like it is going bankrupt and may lack the political clout it had last election cycle.
This year, the NRA has been mired in investigations by attorneys general in New York and Washington, D.C., and beset by leaks about its lavish spending practices, while also facing restive donors and inquiries over its ties to Russia. And its finances have been strained.
Recent public filings have shown that it largely exhausted a $25 million line of credit that was guaranteed by the deed to its Fairfax, Virginia, headquarters, and borrowed against insurance policies taken out on its executives. Oliver North, who departed this year as the NRA’s president in an acrimonious leadership fight, has said that the organization’s legal bills, running between $1.5 million and $2 million a month from its main law firm, have created an “existential crisis.”
In the midterm elections, gun control groups outspent the NRA, upending the usual political dynamics. But the organization still has considerable resources and more than 5 million members, many of whom overlap with Trump’s base. And rallying grassroots support has traditionally been one of its strengths.
Aides have reassured Trump that the group is still in good enough financial shape to help him, even as his own political fortunes have shifted since the mass shootings.
For his part, Trump has been caught between opposing political pressures to do something on gun legislation and to maintain the status quo. He has idled in neutral while Congress has waited for a sign from the White House on what it plans to propose.
The White House has also been sending mixed messages on its intentions. Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and a senior White House adviser, was still calling around to senators this week, saying her father wanted to make a move on guns even as he faced impeachment. But Trump’s meeting with LaPierre on Friday indicated that his priority may be his own political survival rather than making any strides on guns.
In the meantime, White House aides and Trump have sought to blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who announced a formal impeachment inquiry against Trump on Tuesday, for lowering the chances of working together on bipartisan measures.
“It’s no secret the president wants meaningful solutions to protect American communities and potentially stop one of these tragedies from ever happening again,” said Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, “and he’s going to continue doing his job even though Democrats refuse to do theirs.”
Trump and Pelosi spoke about gun policy Tuesday. Pelosi’s staff characterized the call as completely lacking in substance on gun measures. Trump said she cared only about impeachment.
“Nancy Pelosi is not interested in guns and gun protection and gun safety,” Trump said during a bilateral meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine at the United Nations General Assembly. “All she’s thinking about is this.”