White House eyes September action plan for gun proposals

White House eyes September action plan for gun proposals
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The White House is in talks with lawmakers from both parties on gun control proposals, hoping for a plan of action before September.

Administration officials and senior staffers in both chambers are in early discussions about which bills are likely to see movement, and which ones the White House might support.

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“I think the wheels are spinning pretty quickly right now on gathering a lot of this information,” a source familiar with the discussions told The Hill. “So I think the goal would be to have something ready by the end of the month or at least by the time Congress comes back — have some sort of a better picture.”

The House and Senate are slated to reconvene Sept. 9.

Staff for Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSunday shows - Recession fears dominate Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Trump vows to 'always uphold the Second Amendment' amid ongoing talks on gun laws MORE (D-W.Va.) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces White House eyes September action plan for gun proposals Trump phoned Democratic senator to talk gun control MORE (D-Conn.) — two key senators on gun control — met with White House staff on Tuesday. And Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns MORE’s (R-Pa.) office has also been involved in talks.

Manchin and Toomey are the co-authors of a 2013 background check bill that was rejected by the Senate, and Murphy is a leading champion of gun control, having taken up the cause after the deadly 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in his home state.

Trump has publicly praised the idea of strengthening background checks, following pressure to act after back-to-back mass shootings earlier this month in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.

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But the Toomey-Manchin proposal faces significant hurdles. Some question whether the administration can get behind it, particularly since House-passed legislation in February that went slightly further received minimal GOP support.

“That one could be tricky, though. It might be a bridge too far,” said the source familiar with the talks. “But that's not to say it couldn't happen on the Hill. I think you could pretty easily. ... I think they are going to take a read from him [Trump] on that issue.”

There is deep skepticism over the prospects for a bipartisan agreement, especially with the split power between chambers.

“I mean, the fact of the matter is the Senate is where the real game is here. The House is going to take this thing so far to the left and, you know, there's no feasible pass through the Senate,” the source said.

“So the question is: Can you get something that is enough to attract enough Democrats in the Senate and get some sort of a deal that doesn't alienate too many Republicans?”

There is also uncertainty on Capitol Hill over whether Trump will ultimately walk back his remarks signaling an openness to significantly tightening background check laws.

In early 2018, after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., Trump said he was open to a range of gun control measures like background checks and even an assault weapons ban. But he later backed off, declaring at an National Rifle Association convention that year: “Your Second Amendment rights are under siege. But they will never, ever be under siege as long as I’m your president.”

Still, Trump is publicly saying this time around that he is open to a deal. The president spoke with Murphy on Sunday and told reporters it was a good discussion.

“We had a very good conversation,” Trump said on Tuesday. “We’ll see what happens.”

“I can tell you, from my standpoint, I would like to see meaningful background checks,” Trump added. “And I think something will happen.”

Murphy is warning that if anything is going to happen, Trump cannot fold under pressure from the right like he did before.

“We continue to work to find common ground, but as I told the President, we can't get a bill if he and the GOP give the gun lobby veto power,” Murphy tweeted after his call with Trump.

Gun rights groups, a powerful force in the GOP, are putting pressure on Republicans not to take action.

Michael Hammond, legislative counsel for Gun Owners of America, said his group has been in touch with the offices of GOP senators, warning them: “If you think that you're going to win the next election by destroying your base, you better think again.”

Hammond said he thinks Trump is already backing off from a push for universal background checks, and would propose something smaller, like an enhanced version of the “Fix NICS” law improving the reporting of information to the existing background check system. Congress passed that bill last year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAre Democrats turning Trump-like? House Democrat calls for gun control: Cities can ban plastic straws but 'we can't ban assault weapons?' Churches are arming and training congregants in response to mass shootings: report MORE (R-Ky.), who would be expected to hold a floor vote on any potential deal, is seen as a major question mark in the effort to advance gun legislation. He has long opposed gun control measures, though he cracked the door open slightly this month.

The Kentucky Republican said background checks and “red flag” laws to help keep guns away from mentally ill people would be “two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass.”