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 McConnellTwo years after Harvey's devastation, the wake-up call has not been heeded McGrath releases ad blasting McConnell with coal miners in Kentucky: 'Which side are you on?' Prediction: 2020 election is set to be hacked, if we don't act fast 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 CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges MORE (Texas) and Democratic Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyRepublicans suffer whiplash from Trump's erratic week Murphy: Chance of deal on gun background checks bill 'less than 50-50' Murphy says White House still interested in improving background checks 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 RyanUSCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Soaring deficits could put Trump in a corner if there's a recession Paul Ryan moving family to Washington 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) ManchinAn ode to Joe Manchin's patriotism on his birthday Trump awards Medal of Freedom to NBA legend Bob Cousy Overnight Energy: Green groups sue Trump over Endangered Species Act changes | Bureau of Land Management retirees fight plan to relocate agency | Wildfires in Amazon rainforest burn at record rate MORE (D-W.Va.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampPence to push new NAFTA deal in visit to Iowa Al Franken says he 'absolutely' regrets resigning Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand 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 LeeA cash advance to consider McConnell, allies lean into Twitter, media 'war' Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing 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 TrumpGraham: America must 'accept the pain that comes in standing up to China' Weld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump New data challenges Trump's economic narrative 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 JordanTrump knocks news of CNN hiring ex-FBI official McCabe Democratic Women's Caucus calls for investigation into Epstein plea deal DOJ releases notes from official Bruce Ohr's Russia probe interviews 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 to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist, former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators 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 SchumerJewish Democratic congresswoman and veteran blasts Trump's 'disloyalty' comments Schumer says Trump encouraging anti-Semites Saagar Enjeti: Biden's latest blunder; Krystal Ball: Did Schumer blow our chance to beat McConnell? 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 KlobucharKlobuchar knocks Trump: 'This negotiating by tweet hasn't been working' Sunday shows preview: Trump ratchets up trade war with China Steyer calls on DNC to expand polling criteria for debates 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.