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Sunday Politics

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Yesterday's shooting and the shooting the day before at a high school football game in Alabama that injured 10, both following just weeks behind El Paso and Dayton, are raising questions again about what the White House and Congress are planning to do to address gun violence in the U.S. Joining me to talk about this is NPR's Tamara Keith. Welcome.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So the president just spoke about this. What did he say?

KEITH: So the president said that the shooting in Texas hasn't really changed anything, that the White House and Congress are still talking about doing something, talking about a legislative package, though it's not clear what that would include. He says there are a lot of different bills and ideas. And then he went on to question whether background checks would really make a difference.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I will say that for the most part, sadly, if you look at the last four or five, going back even five or six or seven years, for the most part, as strong as you make your background checks, they would not have stopped any of it. So it's a big problem. It's a mental problem. It's a big problem.

KEITH: And frequently, in the wake of mass shootings, President Trump has talked about mental health, saying that the shooters are sick people. And he did that again today.

FADEL: So, Tam, the president has been all over the place on the idea of enhanced background checks. From what he just said, he seems to indicate he's backing away now. Can you tell where he is today what he might support?

KEITH: You know, it's really not clear, and it hasn't been clear for quite a while. You know, immediately, after Dayton and El Paso, he tweeted that he wanted strong background checks and that Congress should get to it. And then he backed away. He talked more about wanting mental institutions, said that - you know, as he said today, background checks wouldn't actually help. But at the same time, the White House is continuing to have meetings with bipartisan offices of members of Congress, and the White House says that they aren't ruling out anything. The way this is sort of happening is that the Trump White House is saying, well, we have to see what would be able to pass Congress. And Republicans especially in Congress are saying, well, we need to know what the president supports.

FADEL: Right.

KEITH: And it's not clear when we're going to get an answer on that. Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut, who's been an advocate for stronger gun control laws, says that he has had good, meaningful conversations with the White House and that he feels like something is possible. A House committee that was supposed to consider some gun legislation this week had to postpone because of Hurricane Dorian.

FADEL: Right. And President Trump was set to go to Poland this week but decided to stay in the U.S. as Dorian became more of a threat. What are his plans to monitor the storm?

KEITH: Well, President Trump is visiting FEMA headquarters for a briefing today. He's also been getting regular updates over the weekend, though he did find time to visit his private golf course in Virginia yesterday. He's been tweeting a lot about the storm. He's also been tweeting a lot about other random things, including "The Apprentice."

FADEL: Now, the storm's approaching at a time when the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, has an acting administrator at the helm, Peter Gaynor, and his boss, Kevin McLennan, he's the acting secretary of Homeland Security. Just how many critical roles in this administration are held by people who are serving in an acting capacity?

KEITH: A lot. So there is no nominee for a permanent Homeland Security secretary, no nominee for deputy secretary. There is no - there is a nominee for FEMA administrator, but he's still awaiting Senate confirmation. There is an acting FEMA administrator, acting deputy FEMA administrator. There's also a lot of empty positions at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. President Trump was asked about this the other day, and he said, you know, acting gives you great flexibility that you don't have with permanent. And he says that he can leave people in acting positions for a long time.

FADEL: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Thanks for joining us this morning.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.