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 McConnellFormer Bush assistant: Mueller report makes Obama look 'just plain bad' 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform Dem says marijuana banking bill will get House vote this spring 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 Cornyn Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Trump struggles to reshape Fed Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks MORE (Texas) and Democratic Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates More than 30 Senate Dems ask Trump to reconsider Central American aid cuts Long-shot goal of nixing Electoral College picks up steam 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 RyanAppeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers FEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday 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) ManchinOn The Money: Cain 'very committed' to Fed bid despite opposition | Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Brexit harms Irish peace | Ivanka Trump says she turned down World Bank job Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed Pro-life Christians are demanding pollution protections MORE (D-W.Va.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampPro-trade groups enlist another ex-Dem lawmaker to push for Trump's NAFTA replacement Pro-trade group targets 4 lawmakers in push for new NAFTA Biden office highlights support from women after second accuser comes forward 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 LeeDems sound alarm over top DOJ nominee Restore Pell Grant eligibility to people in prison Former Democratic aide pleads guilty to doxing GOP senators attending Kavanaugh hearing 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 TrumpImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent Feds say marijuana ties could prevent immigrants from getting US citizenship Trump approval drops to 2019 low after Mueller report's release: poll 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 JordanOvernight Health Care: DOJ charges doctors over illegal opioid prescriptions | Cummings accuses GOP of obstructing drug pricing probe | Sanders courts Republican voters with 'Medicare for All' | Dems probe funding of anti-abortion group Cummings accuses Oversight Republicans of obstructing drug price probe Schumer staffer-turned-wrestling coach focus of new documentary 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 HatchHatch warns 'dangerous' idea of court packing could hurt religious liberty Former Democratic aide pleads guilty to doxing GOP senators attending Kavanaugh hearing How do we prevent viral live streaming of New Zealand-style violence? 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 SchumerHillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars Dem legal analyst says media 'overplayed' hand in Mueller coverage Former FBI official praises Barr for 'professional' press conference 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 KlobucharSanders announces first endorsements in South Carolina Telehealth is calling — will Congress pick up? 2020 Dems call on Mueller to testify about redacted report 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.