- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2017

ATLANTA — For years the GOP pitch to conservative voters in general, and gun rights supporters in particular, was: We might have the House and Senate, but we need you to get us a president who can finally sign all these bills into law.

Now that Republicans control the White House, activists at the National Rifle Association’s annual meetings said it’s President Trump who could use new Republicans in Congress.

“I’m disappointed in Paul Ryan, period,” said Rosemary Pereira of Florida. “He’s not pushing hard enough for his party and doing his job — on everything.”

“He’s too slow. He’s kind of, like, sitting back waiting for things to happen,” said Ray Pereira, Rosemary’s husband and a fellow retiree. “And I don’t think that’s his job. I think he needs to get out there and push and work for this administration.”

Mrs. Pereira said Republicans in general aren’t backing Mr. Trump as they should be.

“They have to be more with him. They don’t stick together like the Democrats. They just don’t. They fight him too much,” she said. “If they were behind him like they should be, we’d be living in America again.”

Mr. Trump was given a hero’s welcome in Atlanta when he spoke to National Rifle Association members at the NRA’s annual meeting and joked about his mercurial relationship with Sen. Ted Cruz, his top Republican presidential rival and now a reliable supporter of the administration.

The president said he “loved” Sen. David Perdue, a Georgia Republican also solidly supportive of the administration, “right from the beginning.”

“The other one I really liked, didn’t like, and now like a lot again,” he said, referring to Mr. Cruz, who famously declined to endorse Mr. Trump in a prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention before announcing his support.

“Sen. Ted Cruz — like, dislike, like,” Mr. Trump said.

David Corbin, 72, who works in projectile manufacturing in Oregon, said he would have supported Republicans like Mr. Cruz and Mr. Ryan for president.

“But when they didn’t get on board with Trump because he was kind of an outlier as far as the Republican Party, I said, ‘Well, these could be problems for Trump and for the Republican Party because the conservative base is already a little disillusioned with the Republican Party,’” Mr. Corbin said.

Mr. Ryan and Mr. Cruz eventually came along, albeit reluctantly. But broadly speaking, Republican support hasn’t been enough, said Don Spitz, 71, who lives near Daytona Beach, Florida.

“It seems like they need more support,” he said. “They just don’t seem like they want to follow his orders at all.”

Mr. Spitz said he is looking forward to touring Mr. Trump’s promised U.S.-Mexico border wall, for which the president will likely need broad Republican support in Congress.

“I promised my wife in 2020 we’re going to take a vacation — look at the wall in New Mexico,” he said. “So Trump needs to fund this thing. I want to stay at the Wall Hilton or the Wall Marriott and take a look at the tower.”

The president says Mexico will pay for the wall eventually, though the White House backed off demands to have Congress include money for it as part of a spending bill last week.

Mr. Trump’s relationship with Congress has been curious. During the campaign, Mr. Ryan, the House speaker, was frequently critical and told his members to distance themselves from their party’s nominee if need be.

After the election, Mr. Ryan did an about-face, saying Mr. Trump had shown Republicans how to win again and that his goals would be the goals of Republicans in Congress.

Still, Mr. Trump has struggled to notch any major legislative wins. Mr. Ryan was unable to garner the votes for an Obamacare repeal and needed to go into overtime just to finish last year’s spending bills.

Barry Bechtold, 61, of Pennsylvania said Republicans could be doing more to make the president’s job easier.

“I don’t know if some of the Democratic associates are getting to them or they’re listening to the media too much,” he said. “We need to give him a chance and let him do his thing and not be so critical on certain things and work together as a country.”

Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, said it has been frustrating at times to watch the misadventures of Republicans in Congress.

“I don’t want to come down too hard on the GOP-led Congress, but they can’t seem to be able to get out of their own way at times,” Sheriff Clarke said in his Friday speech to NRA members. “Sometimes it’s very painful to watch.”

NRA attendees did praise Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, for pulling the “nuclear” trigger to get Justice Neil M. Gorsuch onto the U.S. Supreme Court, using a shortcut to change the chamber’s rules and eviscerate the power of the filibuster.

“I have to grade McConnell high because of what he did on [the] Justice Gorsuch nomination. Despite all the caterwauling of [Senate Minority Leader] Chuck Schumer and [other] Democrats, he just went ahead and did the right thing,” said Paul Heimbach, a retired Air Force officer from Florida.

Mr. Heimbach said that is the kind of “gumption” the party could use to get national concealed carry reciprocity legislation — a top NRA priority — through Congress.

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