Lately it seems as if President Donald Trump and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise have started their own mutual admiration society. Trump recognized Scalise, who fought his way back after nearly dying in a mass shooting last summer, as the "Legend from Louisiana" during his State of the Union speech in January. In recent days, Scalise has been sending out fundraising pleas headlined "Our Debt to the President."
"President Trump has done incredible work to turn this country around. I was one of his earliest supporters," he wrote, before asking for money to help preserve the House's Trump-friendly GOP majority this fall.
So Scalise probably expected Wednesday's White House meeting on gun legislation to go a little differently.
The president was elected with enthusiastic NRA support. But in the wake of the latest mass school shooting in Florida, he's been at least giving lip service to mild gun control measures that Democrats generally back and the NRA — and its allies such as Scalise — don't.
In the televised meeting, Trump went much, much further. He urged Republicans to work with Democrats on their priorities, and gave so many positive signals to those who want to expand background checks, raise the age to buy rifles and more that Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, seated at the president's side, could barely contain her delight.
With a winking set-up from his Republican Senate counterpart John Cornyn, Scalise sought to pull Trump back on script. He noted that the House could support a narrow background-check bill if it's paired with an NRA priority, a bill to allow concealed carry permits to apply across state lines.
Scalise barely got the words out before Trump shut him down.
"You know I’m your biggest fan in the whole world … I’m with you, but let it be a separate bill,” Trump said. "if you add conceal carry to this, you'll never get it passed."
Trump's right, of course, and that may well be the GOP strategy to stop momentum on any gun restrictions at all. But to see him treat his own team this way was, in a word, stunning.
And it may not mean a thing. In the past, Trump has sent accommodating signals about immigration but later shifted his position after hardliners made their case. And just as with immigration, he didn't appear remotely well-versed in the policy particulars or political nuances involved. In fact, after Wednesday's meeting, some NRA allies quickly cast the whole episode as little more than theater.
“I thought it was fascinating television and it was surreal,” Cornyn later said.
I'd bet Scalise would take time out of his cheerleading for the president to agree.