GOP leadership in the Senate are not supporting President Trump’s comments on Wednesday that called for more ambitious gun-control proposals saying that they won’t change the political calculus in their conference. Senate Republicans are supporting a limited response to the shooting at a Florida high school.
John Cornyn (R-Texas), the Senate Republican Whip, is leading the GOP response to gun violence in the upper chamber. He told reporters after the meeting with Trump at the White House that he still favors a limited approach.
Cornyn aims to put a narrow bill on the floor giving state and local officials more incentive to report relevant information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System known as NICS.
“For me the most obvious place to start is the Fix NICS [National Instant Criminal Background Check System] bill that has 46 cosponsors,” Cornyn said concerning the bill he co-sponsored with Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.).
Cornyn is warning that the Senate could, in fact, repeat this month’s failed immigration debate if they try to draft an expansive legislation on gun control.
“I think the best way to start is to start with Fix NICS and then we can see what sort of amendments people that can get 60 votes,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) also favors a more narrow approach as the best strategy going forward.
The president surprised lawmakers at a White House meeting on Wednesday afternoon by voicing support for a five-year-old proposal that Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) sponsored expanding background checks for firearms bought at gun shows and over the internet.
Just hours before the White House meeting, Senate GOP said that proposal had no chance of passing and wasn’t even on the table.
Trump continued to reiterate his support for raising the age requirement for purchasing assault-style rifles from 18 to 21 years. But GOP leaders at lunchtime Wednesday said that raising the age threshold wouldn’t have enough votes to pass.
“There aren’t the votes there for that,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said.
And Trump challenged lawmakers to include a variety of ideas into one bill, which would expand the scope of the legislative response that GOP leaders had tried to keep as narrow as possible.
“It would be nice if we could add everything on to it,” he told lawmakers who met with him in the Cabinet Room. Trump even suggested a name for the measure: the U.S. Background Check Bill.
Cornyn quipped after the meeting that the president’s proposal was “easier said than done.” And Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said, “if you actually tried to put a comprehensive bill together and take a bill to the floor that was comprehensive, you’d probably wind up with no result.” Blunt continued by saying the Fix NICS bill “has the biggest chance to get 60 votes.”
Trump believes that lawmakers should use the Toomey-Manchin proposal as a base bill and build on top of it. But Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who attended the White House meeting, said he would still vote against it.
“I haven’t voted for it in the past, I’m not inclined to vote for it now,” Rubio told reporters after the meeting. Rubio defended his position by saying that the shooters in recent mass killings did not buy their weapons at gun shows or from unlicensed dealers and wouldn’t have been stopped by the Toomey-Manchin law proposal.
One Republican who wanted to stay anonymous expressed doubt that Trump fully understood the Toomey-Manchin proposal and predicted he would change his mind on comprehensive background checks.
“Do you think he has any idea what’s in Manchin-Toomey?” the lawmaker asked. “As he gets more information he may not hold to that. What makes you think Manchin-Toomey will get more votes than it did before.”
Democratic leaders remain supportive of the bill saying it would close the “gun show” loophole. Six Democrats who voted for that bill five years ago have since been replaced by Republicans who would be more skeptical of the legislation: Sens. Kay Hagan (N.C.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Mary Landrieu (La.), Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.).
But Toomey is believing that Trump’s comments have now given the bill new life.
“It does feel as though the atmosphere has changed. It does feel to me as though there are members who were not willing to do something in the past that might be willing now,” he said. “I know for a fact that there are individual senators who have voted against Manchin-Toomey who have told me they are reconsidering.”
Credit: The Hill