This week: Gun debate rages as Congress returns

Lawmakers return to Washington this week under rising pressure to act following the latest mass shooting at a high school in Florida.

Both chambers of Congress were in session the day after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., but adjourned for a weeklong recess before the teenage survivors began blanketing the airwaves demanding action.

Stoneman Douglas students grabbed the nation’s attention with continued pleas on national television for lawmakers to do something on gun policy after yet another mass shooting that claimed the lives of 17 students and faculty.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE is endorsing comprehensive background checks, raising the minimum age to buy a long gun to 21 and banning devices known as bump stocks that help semi-automatic weapons fire faster.

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A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers pushed to prohibit bump stocks last October after they were used by the gunman in the mass shooting on the Las Vegas strip, but the effort faltered amid questions of whether the Trump administration could act.

Trump’s announcement last week directing the Justice Department to propose regulations that would ban bump stocks marked a shift.

Still, any legislation beyond enforcing existing background check rules faces a tough path to getting a vote in either chamber currently controlled by the GOP — and even a background check bill could be a heavy lift for Congress.

The House passed a bipartisan bill last year to penalize agencies for failing to report information already required by the law, but it stalled in the Senate because House GOP leaders attached a measure that would allow people to use permits for carrying concealed handguns across state lines.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio unloads on Turkish chef for 'feasting' Venezuela's Maduro: 'I got pissed' For Poland, a time for justice Judiciary Democrat calls for additional witnesses to testify on Kavanaugh MORE (R-Fla.) said senators would go to the floor as soon as Monday to try to pass the Senate’s version of the legislation, known as the Fix NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) Act. But any one senator could object and block the bill, and a small band of GOP senators have publicly said they oppose the measure as it is currently written.

Some Republicans, including Rubio, have expressed openness to raising the minimum age to buy assault rifles to 21 to match the requirements for handguns despite opposition from the National Rifle Association.

“Why should a 20yr old single mom be denied the right to defend herself and her kids? We should lower the age to buy a handgun to 18, instead of raising the age to buy an AR15. SAD!” tweeted conservative Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieRand Paul’s Russia visit displays advancement of peace through diplomacy Republicans win elections by restoring faith of Americans Pelosi blasts Trump administration: Allowing 3D printed guns is a ‘death warrant’ MORE (R-Ky.).

GOP Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGrassley: No reason to delay Kavanaugh hearing Dem senators back Kavanaugh accuser's call for FBI investigation Kavanaugh accuser says FBI should investigate before she testifies MORE (Ariz.) is working with Democratic Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight Hillary Clinton: FBI investigation into Kavanaugh could be done quickly Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE (D-Calif.) to draft legislation. GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGrassley: No reason to delay Kavanaugh hearing Dem senators back Kavanaugh accuser's call for FBI investigation CNN’s Brooke Baldwin on Ford: ‘Mr. President, refer to her by her name’ MORE (Maine) told NBC News that she is open to the idea, while GOP Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsPat Robertson asks followers to help cast 'shield of protection' ahead of hurricane Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke The farm bill gives Congress a chance to act on the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act MORE (Kan.) told local reporters that he supports increasing the minimum age to buy an AR-15.

And Rep. Brian MastBrian Jeffrey MastRep. Mast wins GOP nod after facing two primary challengers Key races to watch as Florida, Arizona head to polls GOP lawmaker appears on right-wing radio show hosted by 'anti-Islam' commentators MORE (R-Fla.), a freshman lawmaker who lost both his legs in Afghanistan, endorsed a ban on assault weapons in a New York Times op-ed.

“I cannot support the primary weapon I used to defend our people being used to kill children I swore to defend,” Mast wrote.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySituation in Yemen should lead us to return to a constitutional foreign policy Overnight Defense: Biden honors McCain at Phoenix memorial service | US considers sending captured ISIS fighters to Gitmo and Iraq | Senators press Trump on ending Yemen civil war Senators press Trump administration on Yemen civil war MORE (D-Conn.), a leading gun control advocate in Congress, has been invited to meet with the White House this week. A spokesman said on Friday that the details of the meeting — including who he will meet with or when they are meeting — are still being worked out.

 
Billy Graham

Prominent evangelist Billy Graham will lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday and Thursday, a rare honor granted to few people in U.S. history.

Graham is the first private citizen to lie in honor there since civil rights hero Rosa Parks in 2005. The last person to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda was the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) in 2012.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanCorey Stewart fires aide who helped bring far-right ideas to campaign: report GOP super PAC hits Randy Bryce with ad starring his brother Super PACs spend big in high-stakes midterms MORE (R-Wis.) said in a statement after Graham’s death last week that the American evangelist's reach “was rooted in decency, humility, and love.”

Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSanders hits Feinstein over Kavanaugh allegations: Now it’s clear why she did nothing for months On The Money: Senate approves 4B spending bill | China imposes new tariffs on billion in US goods | Ross downplays new tariffs: 'Nobody's going to actually notice' McConnell tamps down any talk of Kavanaugh withdrawal MORE (R-Ky.) will take part in a bicameral service after Graham’s casket arrives on Wednesday. Members of the public can pay their respects while Graham lies in the Capitol Rotunda.

As a result of the event, the House has canceled its originally scheduled votes for Wednesday and Thursday. A spokesman for McConnell declined to say if that chamber would also cut short its work week.

Immigration

Congress appears poised to miss a March 5 deadline to pass a fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The legislative stalemate comes after the Senate earlier this month rejected four proposals, including the White House framework and a narrower solution pitched by a key group of centrists.

Trump lashed out at Democrats during his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, saying Democrats “totally abandoned” the group of immigrants brought into the country illegally as children, known as “Dreamers.”

“Senate Democrats and the House Democrats have totally abandoned DACA. They've totally — they don't even talk to me about it. They have totally abandoned it. ... The Democrats are being totally unresponsive. They don't want to do anything about DACA,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHouse Dems push to delay Kavanaugh vote for investigation Democrats should end their hypocrisy when it comes to Kavanaugh and the judiciary Celebrities back both Cuomo and Nixon as New Yorkers head to primary vote MORE (D-N.Y.) quickly fired back that Trump needs to “step up and lead” on immigration and gun control.

“It’s clear to everyone but President Trump that it was he who forced the DACA issue when he ended the program. ... His refusal to take 'yes' for an answer led to his partisan plan that only got 39 votes,” he said.

Meanwhile, House conservatives and the White House are lining up behind a proposal by Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteVirginia reps urge Trump to declare federal emergency ahead of Hurricane Florence Republicans mull new punishments for dissident lawmakers Republicans ready to grill Bruce Ohr as Trump-DOJ feud escalates MORE (R-Va.), which mirrors a wide-ranging wish list released by the administration last year.

That bill, however, does not yet have 218 votes in the House, and is considered a non-starter in the Senate.

Though the Trump administration established March 5 as Congress’s deadline to pass a DACA fix, two court decisions have thrown the timeline into flux. Under the rulings, the Trump administration has to keep DACA on the books while litigation plays out.

The Supreme Court has yet to say if they will take up the administration’s request to hear their appeal of the lower court’s ruling.

Online sex trafficking

The House is expected to consider bipartisan legislation on Tuesday that would allow the prosecution of websites that facilitate sex trafficking sales.

The bill, of which Rep. Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerCongress should provide parents an opportunity to care for newborn and adopted children Paid family leave could give new parents a much-needed lifeline Vulnerable Republicans include several up-and-coming GOP leaders MORE (R-Mo.) is the chief author, would also clarify a provision of the Communications Decency Act that would let victims take action against such websites.

Backpage.com in particular has come under scrutiny for allegations that people were using its adult services section for prostitution and sex trafficking. The site closed down its adult section last year.

Last year, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations issued a report accusing Backpage executives of knowingly letting their site enable prostitution and sex trafficking. It added that Backpage had swatted away multiple cases by citing the provision of the Communications Decency Act that gives online platforms immunity from liability over what their users post. 

“Online trafficking is flourishing because there are no serious, legal consequences for the websites that profit from the exploitation of our most vulnerable,” Wagner said in a statement.