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President Donald Trump doubled down on his support for the National Rifle Association at the group’s annual conference in Dallas on Friday after previously vowing to fight the powerful gun-rights group following a February mass shooting at a Florida high school.
"Your Second Amendment rights are under siege, but they will never, ever be under siege as long as I'm your president," Trump told the supportive crowd in a campaign-style speech.
Friday's address was his first to a guns rights group since the Valentine's Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and spurred demonstrations across the nation for tougher restrictions on firearms.
After the shooting, Trump briefly pledged to take on the NRA, telling a group of the nation's governors visiting the White House that it was fine to "fight them every once in a while."
"They're doing what they think is right. ... But sometimes we’re going to have to be very tough and we're going to have to fight them,” he said at the time.
However, his administration's recommendations for addressing school violence did not include several measures he had publicly mentioned that are opposed by the NRA, including raising the age restrictions on the purchase of certain weapons.
In his address to the group Friday, Trump renewed his pledge to possibly "harden" public schools, arm "highly trained" teachers and guards, and improve mental health and background checks to curb mass shootings.
Trump also boasted about the economy, hours after the announcement that the unemployment rate had fallen to 3.9 percent for the first time since 2000. He praised rapper Kanye West, who has sparked controversy over the past few days with a series of political remarks, including positive comments about Trump himself — and credited the entertainer with what he described as a surge in African-American support: "Thank you, Kanye."
But he launched familiar attacks on immigration, the special counsel's investigation and Senate Democrats, whom he blasted for "slow-walking" his nominees.
"In the history of this country, there has been nothing like what Democrats are doing," he told the crowd.
He urged the crowd to vote in the November midterms to allow Republicans to maintain, or possibly increase, their majority in the House and Senate.
"We need Republicans to do it right to get the kind of things we want," he said. "We have to get Republicans elected."
He also touted his hardline approach to immigration, vowing to crack down on migrants at the southern border and strengthening immigration laws.
At one point during the speech, he read to the crowd a CNN article about a federal judge who had chastised special counsel Robert Mueller's Russian probe and called the investigation into Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort an attempt to remove the president from office. Trump spoke in support of Manafort: "I truly believe he is a good person."
After again describing the probe as a "witch hunt," the president said, “Let me tell you folks, we’re all fighting battles, but I love fighting these battles."