Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy meet with Trump on gun proposals
Christal Hayes and Ledyard King
Published 9:57 PM EDT Sep 10, 2019
WASHINGTON – Republicans in Congress looking to the president on how to address gun control could have gotten an idea Tuesday of where the administration stands on proposals aiming to curb violence in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings.
GOP leaders in the House and Senate met at the White House Tuesday afternoon about the legislative agenda for fall, which will include a heavy focus on guns. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said repeatedly that he would only put gun legislation to a vote if it was something the president would sign into law, but the president has gone back and forth on various gun proposals, leaving lawmakers on Capitol Hill without a clear indication as to his position on the controversial issue.
“[White House aides] are working on coming up with a proposal that the president will sign. Until that happens, all this is, is theatrics,” McConnell said Tuesday. “We’re waiting to see how we can actually achieve something on this issue.”
After the meeting, Rep. Steve Scalise, one of four lawmakers who attended the gathering, said it was a “general discussion just about a lot of different ideas,” including everything from more data being provided to the national background check system to so-called “red-flag” proposals, measures that seek to bar guns from those who may cause harm to themselves or others.
But Scalise, the House Minority Whip, did not provide specifics on what the president would actually support, nor did he provide a timeline of when any legislation could be taken up.
“The President’s been willing to meet with any members of Congress that are open to addressing real problems. But again, the real issue has to be focused on solving problems that have caused some of these shootings to happen as opposed to the approach some people want to take,” Scalise said. “There are many people that are trying to take advantage of these crises just to promote their own gun-control agenda that’s not focused as much on mass shootings as it is on law-abiding citizens.”
After four high profile shootings this summer — most while Congress was on a six-week recess — Republicans are facing intense pressure to take up legislation on guns and congressional Democrats say they aren’t backing down. The most recent shooting, an attack in the area of Midland-Odessa area of Texas, left at least seven dead on Aug. 31. That shooting followed back-to-back-to-back massacres in Gilroy, Calif., El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. The four shootings left a total of 43 people dead and many more injured.
Already this week, Democrats have held news conferences and a forum on gun violence. Late Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee passed a trio of gun bills on a party-line vote.
The measures, none of which are expected to be brought up in the GOP-controlled Senate, would:
Give states more assistance setting up “red flag” laws to give authorities more power to take firearms away from people deemed threatening.
Ban large-capacity magazines that can carry more than 10 rounds such as ones that have been used in some recent mass shootings, including one in Dayton, Ohio, in August.
Add those convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes in the list of categories of individuals who are prohibited from possessing firearms.
“No one measure is going to solve every problem,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., a Judiciary Committee member whose district includes Gilroy where a gunman killed three and wounded more than a dozen at a garlic festival in July. “But if we take a number of sensible steps, it will make people safer.”
Republicans on the panel pushed back, saying the Democratic bills would infringe on Americans’ right to bear arms.
“I really understand people that want us to do something after mass shootings,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., during a debate on red flag legislation. “The thing is we need to work in a bipartisan fashion so we actually get it passed into law and do things that will actually make a difference (but) we also want to make sure we aren’t taking people’s constitutional right without due process.”
More: Poll: Americans don’t expect Congress to act on gun laws
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Earlier Tuesday, McConnell attacked liberals for the series of press conferences and public events aimed at pressuring him to take up the measures and an already-passed House bill expanding background checks. McConnell called the moves “stunts” and “theatrics” that were just “efforts to intimidate.”
He would not say what gun-control proposals should be considered, even as measures that would expand background checks and entice states to create “red-flag” laws continue to be debated and discussed on Capitol Hill.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said there is an appetite to pass something when it comes to guns and pointed to other measures the president has approved, including a federal ban on bump stocks and signing a bill boosting reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
But for now, gun legislation efforts in Congress will remain at a standstill until the White House provides a clear direction to Republicans.
More: It’s been a month. Here’s what Congress is set to do when they come back to D.C.
More: ‘Congress has a lot of thinking to do’ on gun control after Midland-Odessa shooting
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At Senate Republicans’ weekly lunch on Tuesday, White House legislative aide Eric Ueland told senators that the administration was working on a proposal, but did not lay out what the administration was on board with, nor the priorities in tackling the issue.
“We’d like to know where the president is,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said after the lunch. “We would like to have the president provide a line-by-line, ‘this is what I would support’ direction to us, in which case, we’d be able to create a law.”
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla. said no guidance from the White House was given throughout the lunch. “Everybody is talking about a lot of different things,” he said. “We need to know where the White House is.”
Democrats, meanwhile, say the White House doesn’t appear “there yet” on a deal that could attract bipartisan support but say they believe the president has yet to fully be read in on the talks and what he’s ready to support.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who has been talking with the White House frequently about a background check proposal, said he hoped to talk with the president in the next 24 hours about where things stand.
“They’ve got their own ideas. We’ve got our own ideas,” Murphy said of the negotiations with the administration. “We’re just not there yet. Ideally, I want universal background checks but I’m willing to compromise.”
Others, though, haven’t shown the same willingness to take up legislation that would not include expanding background checks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Monday that she wasn’t backing down on the issue.
“We are not taking no for an answer. We are not going away,” she said, adding if McConnell did not take it up, the Senate and Trump “will have hell to pay.”
Contributing: Michael Collins