Schumer faces big test on gun debate

Schumer faces big test on gun debate
© Greg Nash

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerCardi B expresses solidarity with federal workers not getting paid Government shutdown impasse is a leveraging crisis Overnight Health Care: Dem chair meets Trump health chief on drug prices | Trump officials sued over new Kentucky Medicaid work rules | Democrats vow to lift ban on federal funds for abortions MORE (D-N.Y.) is walking a fine line as he tries to balance the competing factions of his caucus during this year’s high-profile fight over gun control.

Schumer has to deal with liberals who are jockeying for 2020 presidential bids as well as centrists who are up for reelection in states President TrumpDonald John TrumpPentagon update to missile defense doctrine will explore space-base technologies, lasers to counter threats Giuliani: 'I never said there was no collusion' between the Trump campaign and Russia Former congressmen, RNC members appointed to Trump administration roles MORE easily won in 2016.

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Democratic leaders are demanding a wide-ranging debate in exchange for bringing up a narrow bill to bolster the background check system. But the caucus emerged from a closed-door meeting on Tuesday still trying to hash out its strategy for the looming floor fight. A bipartisan group of lawmakers will also head to the White House on Wednesday to meet with Trump, which could affect Schumer’s game plan.

Asked what Democrats will seek votes on, Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyCardi B expresses solidarity with federal workers not getting paid Some Senate Dems see Ocasio-Cortez as weak spokeswoman for party Dem senator jokes about holding drinking game for Trump's primetime address MORE (D-Conn.) said, “We talked about that in that caucus. ... I think [Schumer] said he’s going to work with the caucus to come up with a short list of priorities, soon, in the coming days.” Murphy, a leading advocate for gun control, has been mentioned as a possible 2020 presidential candidate.

Schumer said Democrats “will have a list of things that we think need to be done,” but declined to go into detail about what the party will ask for.

Democrats stopped short of saying they would block the Fix NICS (National Instant Background Check System) Act if GOP leadership won’t agree to give them votes on their forthcoming list of proposals. The NICS bill is backed by Republicans, Democrats and the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Lawmakers are under growing pressure to pass new gun control legislation after 17 people were killed at a school shooting in Parkland, Fla. Schumer and Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinTrump AG pick: I won't be 'bullied' by anyone, including the president Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing Senate Dems set to take aim at new Trump attorney general pick MORE (D-Ill.), the top two Senate Democrats, met with survivors of the shooting on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

While Schumer will undoubtedly get pressed by gun control activists to pursue sweeping reforms, centrist Democrats who are up for reelection in red states this year could balk at such a measure.

For example, Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight MORE (D-W.Va.), who is up for reelection this fall, was backed by the NRA in 2012. He subsequently sponsored a background check bill after the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting that was opposed by the NRA, which is unlikely to support his bid for a second term.

Many Democrats argue that the Florida high school shooting is a tipping point in the country’s debate on guns after years of stalled legislation on Capitol Hill. Some Democrats are making it clear they won’t settle for passing a bill that the NRA backs.

But blocking the Fix NICS Act could backfire because it would likely prevent any new gun control legislation from passing Congress, a move that Republicans and Trump could criticize on the campaign trail.

Asked if his caucus would torpedo the bill, Schumer noted it was a GOP senator who delayed it on Monday, after it was hot-lined in the upper chamber.

“The Democrats did not [block it]. But what we are asking for and are going to make every effort to get is the full debate,” Schumer told reporters.

A spokesperson for Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeHillicon Valley: Trump AG pick signals new scrutiny on tech giants | Wireless providers in new privacy storm | SEC brings charges in agency hack | Facebook to invest 0M in local news AG pick Barr wants closer scrutiny of Silicon Valley 'behemoths' Grassroots political participation is under attack in Utah and GOP is fighting back MORE said the Utah Republican has some “due process concerns” with the bill.

The NICS legislation would enforce existing law by ensuring that authorities report criminal records to the NICS and penalizing agencies that don’t provide the information to the FBI.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he would vote for the bill regardless of what else Republicans agree to.

“Every step is important. Sen. Schumer has a view that is certainly entitled to respect and I would heed his leadership, but I think every step toward gun violence prevention is important,” he told reporters this week.

Underscoring the fragile party’s political balance, Schumer has staked out universal background checks as the caucus’s top goal while not publicly calling for this Congress to pass an assault weapons ban.

“Even in the reddest of states, universal background checks has overwhelming support,” Schumer said on Tuesday.

Support of universal background checks on gun sales is very popular, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released last week. Ninety-seven percent support the requirement, including 97 percent of voters who identify as Republicans, according the poll.

But gun control is a politically thorny issue, and red-state Democrats helped foil the 2013 proposal to expand background checks, days after a Quinnipiac University poll had support for the requirement at 91 percent.

At the time five Democrats, each from red and purple states, voted against the bill from Manchin and Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyOvernight 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 Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race MORE (R-Pa.).

Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampEPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks 2020 Election: Democrats can’t afford to ignore their Israel problem Hirono will donate salary earned during government shutdown MORE (D-N.D.) — who is up for reelection in 2018 — is the only one of the five who is still in the Senate. Her office didn’t respond to a request for comment on Tuesday on her current position on the bill. 

Asked about the Democratic leadership’s strategy, Heitkamp said, “I think there’s going to be a whole big discussion about what’s happening with guns and gun violence and I think that everything is going to be on that discussion table.”

Murphy, meanwhile, appeared bullish on Tuesday that the politics of gun control are changing. Asked if Democrats could successfully run on the issue, he fired back: “Have you been watching the polls?”

“This is an issue that Democrats can win on in every single state, in every single district. There’s not another issue in the world that polls at 97 percent like background checks does. ... Every Democrat should be running on background checks,” he said.

Toomey has floated that he could bring back the Toomey–Manchin proposal, potentially with changes. Manchin, whose state Trump won by more than 40 percentage points, said Trump needs to find a path on gun control that he is “comfortable” with.

“I think it’s imperative that he has to get on board with what he feels is comfortable and protects Second Amendment rights, same as I do, and then we go from there,” Manchin told WV MetroNews.

Heitkamp, Manchin and 8 other Senate Democrats are up for reelection in red and purple states won by Trump.

Some House Democrats have warned their party against overreaching in the gun control fight as their colleagues, including House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiOvernight Health Care: Dem chair plans hearing on Medicare for all | Senate GOP talks drug prices with Trump health chief | PhRMA CEO hopeful Trump reverses course on controversial pricing proposal Centrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter On The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (D-Calif.), renew their push for a ban on assault weapons.

A similar bill was introduced by Senate Democrats on Tuesday, winning just more than half of the caucus, including Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test Brown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration MORE (Ohio) and Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyWHIP LIST: Who’s in and out in the 2020 race Senators' last-minute demands may delay funding bill Would-be 2020 Dem candidates head for the exits MORE Jr. (Pa.), both of whom are up for reelection in Trump-won states. Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerGillibrand and Booker play 'How Well Do You Know Your Co-Worker' game amid 2020 speculation The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test 5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony MORE (D-N.J.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandGillibrand and Booker play 'How Well Do You Know Your Co-Worker' game amid 2020 speculation O'Rourke blogs from road trip: 'Have been stuck lately. In and out of a funk' Julián Castro calls for ‘tuition-free’ public colleges, apprenticeships MORE (D-N.Y.) and Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersTexas man indicted over allegations he created fraudulent campaign PACs Overnight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans Dems offer measure to raise minimum wage to per hour MORE (I-Vt.) — each considered a 2020 White House hopeful — also backed the bill.

“I’ve indicated that it is my view that we should ban assault weapons in this country, weapons which are designed for no other purpose but to kill human beings,” Sanders said during a floor speech.

Murphy added that lawmakers will need to “make a decision” if the Fix NICS Act is the only thing that can pass the Senate.

Asked if she could support the Fix NICS Act if it’s the only bill that is allowed to come up, Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFeinstein grappling with vote on AG nominee Barr 5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony Grandson's note to Barr during confirmation hearing goes viral MORE (D-Calif.) — who is up for reelection and facing a primary challenge from the left — told reporters: “I don’t like that question.”

“Obviously I feel very strongly we have to get assault weapons off the streets,” she said. “And I feel very strongly on doing away with the bump stock.”