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

Senate Republicans say President TrumpDonald John TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' 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 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), 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 MurphyHobbled NRA shows strength with Trump Overnight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces White House eyes September action plan for gun proposals 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 McConnellMcConnell rejects Democrats' 'radical movement' to abolish filibuster Hickenlooper announces Senate bid Trump orders elimination of student loan debt for thousands of disabled veterans 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) ManchinOvernight 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 Bureau of Land Management retirees fight plan to relocate agency out west GOP senator: Gun control debate 'hasn't changed much at all' back home 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 ThuneSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' Lawmakers jump-start talks on privacy bill Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (S.D.) told The Hill.

Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsKobach says he's more prepared for 'propaganda' in Senate campaign Pompeo: Senate run 'off the table' Grassley gambles on drug price bill despite GOP doubts 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 BluntGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity GOP group targets McConnell over election security bills in new ad 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 RubioGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads What the gun safety debate says about Washington Trump moves forward with F-16 sale to Taiwan opposed by China 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 HaganTillis trails Democratic challenger by 7 points in North Carolina poll North Carolina businessman will challenge Tillis in GOP primary Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 MORE (N.C.), Tim JohnsonTimothy (Tim) Peter JohnsonSeveral hurt when truck runs into minimum wage protesters in Michigan Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Court ruling could be game changer for Dems in Nevada MORE (S.D.), Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinWisconsin lawmaker gets buzz-cut after vowing not to cut hair until sign language bill passed Democratic debates kick off Iowa summer sprint Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (Iowa), Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuCongress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ Lobbying world 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 UdallPoll: Trump trails three Democrats by 10 points in Colorado The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Colorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down 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.