GOP leaders jockey on guns

GOP leaders jockey on guns
© Greg Nash

The GOP leaders in the House and Senate took starkly different tacks Tuesday in their responses to the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that has reinvigorated a national debate about guns.

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Republicans wrestle with impeachment strategy Mattis warns 'ISIS will resurge' without U.S. pressure on Syria MORE (Ky.), holding a one-vote majority and seeking to win seats in states such as Florida this fall, embraced centrism, saying the Senate should focus on legislation that can pass.

He pointed to a bill sponsored by Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynOvernight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Judge blocks Trump 'public charge' rule | Appeals court skeptical of Trump arguments for Medicaid work requirements | CDC offers guidance for treating vaping-related cases GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Bottom Line MORE (Texas) and Democratic Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyCongress set for showdown with Trump over Kurds Administration to give 'top secret' briefing on Syria amid pushback Senators call for Trump administration to testify on Syria MORE (Conn.) that would improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which Democrats see as too modest a response to the Florida shooting.

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“We should try to make some progress on bills that we agree on,” McConnell said. “What Sen. Cornyn is suggesting is to take something we all agree on — not in any way claiming it’s a panacea — but at least show some progress toward dealing with one element of the problem.”

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials Democrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate MORE (R-Wis.), in contrast, downplayed the need to pass legislation and said House lawmakers are more interested in investigating multiple law enforcement mistakes that allowed the 19-year-old charged in the shooting, Nikolas Cruz, to operate unimpeded.

Ryan slammed law enforcement for missing warning signs in a “colossal breakdown,” and called into question the need to pass new laws before first finding out what happened.

“We need to get to the bottom of how these breakdowns occurred,” Ryan said. “We are going to be looking at the system failures.”

McConnell’s and Ryan’s diverging approaches reflect their differing political positions and priorities.

By calling for a vote on a narrow proposal to improve background checks, McConnell is daring Democrats to block it — a move he would seek to make incumbents up for reelection, such as Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by USAA — Ex-Ukraine ambassador testifies Trump pushed for her ouster GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe Fallout from Kavanaugh confirmation felt in Washington one year later MORE (D-W.Va.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampThe Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Trump wins 60 percent approval in rural areas of key states Pence to push new NAFTA deal in visit to Iowa MORE (D-N.D.), pay for.

He blamed Democrats on Tuesday for blocking a motion to proceed quickly to the Cornyn-Murphy bill, even though a Republican, Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe McConnell warns Trump against withdrawing troops from Syria The American people deserve a debate about Ukrainian military aid MORE of Utah, objected on Monday to a unanimous consent request to move to it.

Ryan, meanwhile, is under heavy pressure from conservatives not to go too far. While President TrumpDonald John TrumpWHCA calls on Trump to denounce video depicting him shooting media outlets Video of fake Trump shooting members of media shown at his Miami resort: report Trump hits Fox News's Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage MORE has offered public support for some gun control measures, including raising the minimum age to 21 for purchasing rifles, Ryan and other House Republicans on Tuesday had a different message.

“Here’s what makes me mad: All these proposals don’t address the problem,” said Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanA Republican Watergate veteran's perspective on a Trump impeachment In testimony, Dems see an ambassador scorned, while GOP defends Trump Ex-Ukraine ambassador arrives to give testimony MORE (R-Ohio), a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. “There was like 36 times this kid interacted with government. It looks like the sheriff’s office didn’t do their job.

“And now the answer is more government?”

The sentiments are much different in the Senate Republican Conference, where leaders feel they are under pressure to pass legislation, even if it’s a modest step, to show they are addressing a problem that has seized the national spotlight. They discussed the issue at length during a lunch meeting Tuesday.

“There’s a recognition that we have to do something,” said one Republican senator, summarizing the talks within the conference.

Another GOP senator noted that survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and other students from around the country plan to march in Washington at the end of next month.

Republican senators would like to show some progress on gun violence at schools before then.

McConnell and other Senate GOP leaders are rallying behind the Cornyn-Murphy bill, which would give local and federal authorities more incentive to report relevant information to the national background check database.

They are still discussing what to do about other proposals, such as raising the age requirement for buying rifles, banning bump stocks and barring suspected terrorists from buying firearms.

McConnell has signaled support for a bill sponsored by Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals Trump to award Medal of Freedom to former Attorney General Edwin Meese Trump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom MORE (R-Utah) that would provide Justice Department grants to train law enforcement, teachers and students in preventing school violence.

“We ought to be able to harden those schools and protect our youngsters,” he said.

That’s a bill that might also win the support of Trump, who has spoken several times since the shooting of the need to “harden” schools.

Senate Democrats say McConnell’s plan falls far short of what’s needed.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump defends 'crime buster' Giuliani amid reported probe Louisiana voters head to the polls in governor's race as Trump urges GOP support Trump urges Louisiana voters to back GOP in governor's race then 'enjoy the game' MORE (N.Y.) backs the proposal to improve reporting to the background check database but wants to dramatically expand background checks to cover sales by persons who are not licensed dealers at gun shows and over the internet.

Schumer said Democrats will press for votes on a range of proposals, including the implementation of universal background checks, although he declined to discuss details.

“We in Congress have an obligation to pass meaningful gun safety legislation that will save lives and tackle as many of the loopholes and problems with our gun laws as we can,” he told reporters.

He called the Fix NICS bill backed by McConnell only “a modest step designed to address one component of gun safety.”

“If that is all Congress does, we won’t have done our job to keep America’s families safe,” he said.

Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharRepublicans wrestle with impeachment strategy Klobuchar takes shots at health and education plans supported by Sanders and Warren O'Rourke campaign says path to victory hinges on top 5 finishes in Iowa, Nevada MORE (D-Minn.), who spoke alongside Schumer at the leadership press conference, said proposals to ban bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic rifles to fire more rapidly, and to restrict the sale of assault-style rifles are also on the table.