Three days after a pair of mass shootings in Ohio and Texas that left 31 people dead, President Donald Trump was preoccupied with visions of a Rose Garden ceremony.
His daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, had proposed the idea of a televised Rose Garden appearance as a way to nudge her father toward supporting universal background checks. The president had recently suggested he was open to the gun-control measure, tweeting, “Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform.” To be sure, this was similar to how he’d responded to other mass shootings during his 31-month presidency, and each time, the push for action fizzled. But the prospect of a Rose Garden ceremony, his daughter thought, where Trump could sign a document and call it “historic” and “unprecedented”—and receive positive media attention—might be the best chance of yielding real change.
For a moment, it looked like it just might work. “He loved it. He was all spun up about it,” said a former senior White House official who, like others interviewed for this story, spoke with me on the condition of anonymity in order to share private conversations. On August 7, the president picked up the phone to discuss the idea with Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the National Rifle Association. “It’s going to be great, Wayne,” Trump said, according to both a former senior White House official and an NRA official briefed on the call. “They will love us.” And if they—meaning the roughly 5 million people who make up the NRA’s active membership, and some of Trump’s electoral base—didn’t, Trump reportedly assured LaPierre, “I’ll give you cover.” (The White House did not return a request for comment for this story.)