President Trump is slated to speak at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention later this week, White House officials confirmed on Sunday night. The event comes just two months after Trump told lawmakers they shouldn’t fear the NRA, and claimed the gun lobbying group had less power over him than it did over members of Congress.
According to CNN, a White House spokesperson said the president was “finalizing exact details,” but did not offer any additional comment on his speech. The event will be Trump’s third consecutive appearance at the annual convention.
Vice President Mike Pence is also scheduled to deliver remarks at the convention on Friday.
The president’s decision to attend the NRA gathering comes on the heels of comments he made to lawmakers on February 28, in which he chided them for being fearful of the NRA’s lobbying power on Capitol Hill.
“They do have great power, I agree with that,” Trump said during a bipartisan meeting at the White House, responding to Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who had argued that passing gun legislation was nearly impossible because of the NRA’s monetary stranglehold on Congress. “They have great power over you people. They have less power over me. What do I need?”
Trump added, “Some of you people are petrified of the NRA. You can’t be petrified. They want to do what is right, and they’re going to do what’s right. I really believe that.”
Since those comments though, the president’s actions suggest that the NRA’s influence over him might in fact be even stronger than over members of Congress: in the wake of the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida which left 17 people dead, Trump initially expressed a willingness to work with legislators to enact stricter gun measures, including raising the minimum purchasing age for assault-style rifles from 18 to 21 and expanding background checks. Days later, following several meetings with top NRA executives, the president changed his tune.
“….On 18 to 21 Age Limits, watching court cases and rulings before acting,” Trump tweeted on March 12, remarking on the administration’s official plan to deter future school shootings, released that same morning. “States are making this decision. Things are moving rapidly on this, but not much political support (to put it mildly).”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the president’s comments later that day, saying that Trump was “making sure that the things we can do right now, we’re actually doing, instead of holding some of those pieces back.”
….On 18 to 21 Age Limits, watching court cases and rulings before acting. States are making this decision. Things are moving rapidly on this, but not much political support (to put it mildly).
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 12, 2018
Trump also backed down on the idea of universal background checks, another gun reform measure the NRA vehemently opposes.
“Universal means something different to a lot of people,” Sanders stated on March 2. “He certainly wants to focus and improve on the background check system.”
Sanders’ comments came one day after NRA lobbying executive Chris Cox tweeted about meeting with the president, saying both Trump and Pence “support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don’t want gun control.”
I had a great meeting tonight with @realDonaldTrump & @VP. We all want safe schools, mental health reform and to keep guns away from dangerous people. POTUS & VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don’t want gun control. #NRA #MAGA
— Chris Cox (@ChrisCoxNRA) March 2, 2018
As ThinkProgress previously noted, the NRA dropped nearly $11 million in outside spending to support Trump during the 2016 election, and nearly $20 million more to attack his rival, Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s visit to the annual NRA convention comes at a fraught time for the gun lobbying group. On Friday, CNN reported that the NRA was poring over documents linked to Kremlin-backed banker Alexander Torshin, a lifelong NRA member.
Torshin has been accused of funneling money through the NRA to boost Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, and is currently being investigated by the FBI, according to sources who spoke with McClatchy. It’s not clear when the investigation first began or whether it’s linked to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.