Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation

Senate Republicans say President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Gov. Ron DeSantis more popular in Florida than Trump Sotomayor accuses Supreme Court of bias in favor of Trump administration MORE’s comments Wednesday calling for more ambitious gun control proposals won’t change the political calculations in their conference, which supports a limited response to the mass shooting at a Florida high school in February.

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynOcasio-Cortez announces slate of all-female congressional endorsements Trump Medicaid proposal sparks bipartisan warnings Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony MORE (Texas), who is leading the GOP response to gun violence in the upper chamber, told reporters after the meeting with Trump at the White House that he still favors a limited approach.

He wants to put a narrow bill on the floor that would give state and local officials more incentive to report relevant information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

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"For me the most obvious place to start is the Fix NICS bill that has 46 cosponsors," Cornyn said of the bill he’s co-sponsored with Democratic Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyKerry responds to Trump accusation he violated Logan Act: 'Another presidential lie' Overnight Health Care: Senate panel to hold hearing on US coronavirus response | Dems demand Trump withdraw religious provider rule | Trump Medicaid proposal sparks bipartisan backlash Democratic senators urge Trump administration to request emergency funding for coronavirus response MORE (Conn.).

Cornyn warned that the Senate risked a repeat of this month’s failed immigration debate if it tries to draft an expansive piece of legislation.

"I think the best way to start is to start with Fix NICSand then we can see what sort of amendments people offer that can get 60 votes,” he said. 

The narrow approach favored by Cornyn is the strategy that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Russian interference reports rock Capitol Hill Top GOP super PAC spent money on NC Democrat MORE (R-Ky.) effectively endorsed the day before.

Trump surprised lawmakers at a White House meeting Wednesday afternoon when he voiced support for a five-year-old proposal sponsored by Sens. 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 (R-Pa.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Lawmakers push back at Trump's Pentagon funding grab for wall Overnight Health Care: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi's staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit MORE (D-W.Va.) to expand background checks for firearms bought at gun shows and over the internet.

Hours before, Senate Republicans said it had no chance of passing and wasn’t really on the table.

Trump also reiterated his support for raising the age requirement for purchasing assault-style rifles from 18 to 21, dispelling uncertainty on Capitol Hill about where he stood on the question.

GOP leaders at lunchtime Wednesday said that raising the age threshold wouldn’t have enough votes to pass.

“There aren’t the votes there for that,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills Senate votes to rein in Trump's power to attack Iran As many as eight GOP senators expected to vote to curb Trump's power to attack Iran MORE (S.D.) told The Hill.

Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsOn the Trail: Senate GOP hopefuls tie themselves to Trump Kobach says he discussed his Senate bid with Trump Republicans expect Trump to withdraw controversial Fed nominee MORE (R-Kan.), who over the weekend indicated support for raising the age for buying rifles, on Tuesday walked back his earlier statement.

And Trump urged lawmakers to fit a variety of ideas into one bill, dramatically expanding the scope of the legislative response that GOP leaders had tried to keep as narrow as possible. 

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“It would be nice if we could add everything on to it,” he told lawmakers who met with him in the Cabinet Room, even suggesting a name for the measure: the U.S. Background Check Bill.

But Cornyn poured cold water on the idea of moving a comprehensive bill, cautioning that it’s “easier said than done.”

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Booker, Merkley propose federal facial recognition moratorium GOP senators defend Sondland, Vindman ousters: They weren't 'loyal' MORE (R-Mo.), another member of the GOP leadership, said, “If you actually tried to put a comprehensive bill together and take a bill to the floor that was comprehensive, you’d probably wind up with no result.”

He said the Fix NICS bill “has the biggest chance to get 60 votes.”

Trump suggested using the Toomey–Manchin proposal as a base bill and building on top of it, but his words of encouragement failed to move the needle much in the Senate.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioCheese, wine importers reeling from Trump trade fight Peace Corps' sudden decision to leave China stirs blowback Lawmakers raise concerns over Russia's growing influence in Venezuela MORE (R-Fla.), who attended the White House meeting, said he would still vote against it.

"I haven't voted for it in the past, I'm not inclined to vote for it now,” Rubio told reporters after the meeting. He also noted that the shooters in recent mass killings did not buy their weapons at gun shows or from unlicensed dealers and wouldn’t have been stopped if the Toomey–Manchin bill had been law.

Rubio said “we’re better off” prosecuting straw purchasers who attempt to evade gun laws already on the books or tightening the current background check system with the Fix NICS bill.

One Republican senator who requested anonymity expressed doubt that Trump fully understands the Toomey–Manchin proposal and predicted he would change his mind on comprehensive background checks.

“Do you think he has any idea what’s in Manchin–Toomey?” the lawmaker asked. “As he gets more information he may not hold to that. What makes you think Manchin–Toomey will get more votes than it did before?”

Democratic leaders pushed the bill, which would close what they call the “gun show loophole," in 2013 but it garnered only 54 votes — six votes short of the number needed to overcome a filibuster.

Six Democrats who voted for that bill five years ago have since been replaced by Republicans who would be more skeptical of the legislation: former Sens. Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganCoronavirus poses risks for Trump in 2020 GOP braces for Democratic spending onslaught in battle for Senate Democrats will win back the Senate majority in 2020, all thanks to President Trump MORE (N.C.), Tim JohnsonTimothy (Tim) Peter JohnsonTrump faces tough path to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac overhaul Several hurt when truck runs into minimum wage protesters in Michigan Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation MORE (S.D.), Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinTrump's trial a major test for McConnell, Schumer New Hampshire parochialism, not whiteness, bedevils Democrats Democrats must question possible political surveillance MORE (Iowa), Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuA decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth Congress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ MORE (La.), Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerBottom Line World Health Day: It's time to fight preventable disease Lobbying World MORE (W.Va.) and Mark UdallMark Emery UdallDemocrats will win back the Senate majority in 2020, all thanks to President Trump Poll: Trump trails three Democrats by 10 points in Colorado The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy MORE (D-Colo.).

Toomey, however, argued that Trump’s words had given his joint proposal with Manchin new life.

“It does feel as though the atmosphere has changed. It does feel to me as though there are members who were not willing to do something in the past that might be willing now,” he said. “I know for a fact that there are individual senators who have voted against Manchin–Toomey who have told me they are reconsidering.”

But even Democrats were skeptical that Trump would follow up his bold talk on Wednesday with action.

Murphy, a champion of universal background checks, said he is “not highly confident.”

“The White House can now launch a lobbying campaign to get universal background checks passed as the president promised in this meeting or they can sit and do nothing. We’ll see,” he said.