The Note: Trump faces defining choice on guns

PHOTO: President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs for travel to New York and New Jersey from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Aug. 9, 2019.PlayLeah Millis/Reuters
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The Take with Rick Klein

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The Democratic candidates are bringing the passion.

But President Donald Trump retains the power -- and the ability to scramble political equations when it comes to guns and mass shootings in America.

Trump faces what may be a defining choice in the days to come. He could confront his own party and some of its most powerful backers on a stubborn issue that has provoked raw emotions, or backtrack as he has after previous episodes of awful violence.

If he chooses the former, Trump might even clear a bar that would-be opponents have set for him.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs for travel to New York and New Jersey from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Aug. 9, 2019. Leah Millis/Reuters
President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs for travel to New York and New Jersey from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Aug. 9, 2019.

"It's a matter of leadership, presidential leadership," Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said on ABC News' "This Week" Sunday. "I hear a lot of the pundits say that if Donald Trump actually took responsibility for this moment, and stepped forward and said this is something we should do, that it would move Mitch McConnell and a lot of other folks."

There are lots of reasons to think nothing will change on guns: The power of the NRA; Trump's propensity to serve his conservative base; the long month before the Senate reconvenes, including Bedminster, New Jersey, time for the president this week; the mistrust of and disdain for Trump that has extended to 2020 candidates flatly calling him a "white supremacist."

But Trump has dictated ideology and action to the Republican Party in the past. If something does happen on the legislative front on guns, it will almost certainly be because the president wanted it to.

The RUNDOWN with Alisa Wiersema

Over the course of four days, 21 candidates swarmed the Iowa State Fair, kicking off the unofficial start of the 2020 campaign season, but amid the fried food, farm animals, press gaggles and glad-handing there was a notable absence. Faced with a test of presidential-level resolve amid tragedy, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke sat out his scheduled Iowa events in favor of spending more time in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, as the community mourned last week's mass shooting.

As his 2020 rivals made their cases for gun reform from the famed Iowa State Fair Soapbox, O'Rourke joined mourning students at an El Paso high school assembly to honor the lives lost, and later, met with family members of some of the victims.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate and former Rep. Beto ORourke hugs a woman at a makeshift memorial outside Walmart honoring victims of a mass shooting there which left 22 people dead, on August 7, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. Mario Tama/Getty Images
Democratic presidential candidate and former Rep. Beto O'Rourke hugs a woman at a makeshift memorial outside Walmart honoring victims of a mass shooting there which left 22 people dead, on August 7, 2019, in El Paso, Texas.

Ahead of Friday's Wing Ding Dinner -- Iowa's version of political speed dating -- Democrats embraced one another during a moment of silence to honor the victims of last week's shootings, before moving on to making their pitches to Iowa voters. In stark contrast, O'Rourke's appearance came in the form of a pre-recorded video in which he urged for unity, while apologizing for missing the event.

On the ground in El Paso, O'Rourke expressed gratitude to his Democrat rivals, saying he's "so grateful to all of them who joined in a moment of silence [Friday] for the victims in Dayton and El Paso, and gun violence all over this country." He added that he is "grateful for their leadership on these issues."

In the fallout of these mass shootings, O'Rourke's own leadership is being put under the microscope. Most voters ABC News spoke with in Iowa said they understood O'Rourke's decision to sit out the state fair events, but still wished they had an opportunity to hear from him. Many voters at the fairgrounds were visibly disappointed to see O'Rourke's name crossed off the soapbox lineup sign, and some even made the jump to question whether it meant his campaign was coming to an end.

Now, as candidates aim to keep up the momentum for gun reform following last week's tragedies, O'Rourke is likely to see another test -- whether he will be able to carve out a unique place in the ongoing debate that hit so close to home.

The TIP with Christopher Donato

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang caught people's attention this weekend. It started on Thursday when Yang secured his fourth poll of at least 2%, a threshold that appears to have qualified him for the September and October debates. At the Iowa State Fair on Friday, the "Yang gang" -- kids wearing math hats -- surrounded him as he walked around the fair, answering fair-goers' questions and consuming a turkey leg and lemonade.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang delivers a 20-minute campaign speech at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair, August 09, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang delivers a 20-minute campaign speech at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair, August 09, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Then on Saturday, Yang had an emotional moment on stage while answering questions at the Everytown Gun Sense forum in Des Moines. He spent a few minutes discussing his ideas to address gun violence before a woman talked about losing her 4-year-old daughter to a stray bullet, and explained that the girl's twin brother witnessed it happen. He walked down to hug her and returned to the stage to speak, but covered his face and started crying. "I have a 6 and 3-year-old boy, imagining … I was imagining it was one of them that got shot and the other saw it. I'm so sorry," Yang said after he regained his composure.

With reporters, he reflected on his emotional moment and the "delicious" turkey leg he at the Iowa State Fair before turning his attention to Trump and shifting his tone. Yang said that he didn't eat too much "crap" at the fair "because I need to stay in presidential form … no one wants a president who doesn't seem like they can run a mile. … I don't think Donald Trump could run a mile ... what does he weigh? Like 280? I say he like passes out at like the quarter-mile mark."

Yang said that there isn't much Trump would be able to beat him at other than "being a slob" and said that Trump could prevent a hot air balloon from rising "because he is so fat." Yang wrapped up by offering to challenge the president "in about any physical or intellectual feat because you're a terrible president and America would love to see you pass out trying to run a mile."

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Monday morning's episode features ABC News Senior Investigative reporter Aaron Katersky, who explains where Jeffrey Epstein's case goes from here after his suicide in prison over the weekend. Then ABC News Deputy Political Director MaryAlice Parks tells us which presidential candidates stood out at the Iowa State Fair. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • President Donald Trump has no scheduled public events.
  • Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., participates in a healthcare roundtable at 10:25 a.m. CDT in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. She then visits a senior living center at 1:30 p.m. in Muscatine. Later, she holds a #ForThePeople rally at 4:05 p.m. in Davenport.
  • Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., visits The Downtown School at 1 p.m. CDT in Des Moines.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., hosts a town hall at 5 p.m. in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. He then hosts another town hall at 7 p.m. in North Conway.
  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., hosts a happy hour fundraiser at 5:30 p.m. in New York City.
  • Former Rep. Joe Sestak D-Pa., meets with Dallas County Democrats at 6:30 p.m. CDT in Adel, Iowa.
  • Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the sharpest political analysis every weekday.

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