McConnell faces pressure to bring Senate back for gun legislation

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRosenstein steps back into GOP crosshairs Biden to deliver remarks in Philadelphia Tuesday on nationwide protests Senate Republicans urge Trump to tone down rhetoric on protests MORE (R-Ky.) is coming under intense pressure to take quick action on gun legislation in the wake of two mass shootings.

Democrats and gun control advocates want the GOP leader to bring the Senate back into session during the August recess to vote on gun-related legislation. The chamber is currently scheduled to be out of Washington until Sept. 9. 

Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerPelosi, Schumer say treatment of protesters outside White House 'dishonors every value that faith teaches us' Is the 'endless frontier' at an end? Judd Gregg: Biden — a path to the presidency, or not MORE (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Pete KingPeter (Pete) KingOn The Money: 3 million more Americans file for unemployment benefits | Sanders calls for Senate to 'improve' House Democrats' coronavirus bill | Less than 40 percent of small businesses have received emergency coronavirus loans GOP Rep. Pete King to buck party, vote for Democrats' coronavirus relief bill Bipartisan lawmakers call for Postal Service relief MORE (R-N.Y.) on Tuesday cast McConnell as the primary roadblock to a House-passed gun background check bill making it to President TrumpDonald John TrumpSessions accepts 'Fox News Sunday' invitation to debate, Tuberville declines Priest among those police cleared from St. John's Church patio for Trump visit Trump criticizes CNN on split-screen audio of Rose Garden address, protesters clashing with police MORE’s desk.

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“We’re saying to Leader McConnell: Do the right thing. Gavel the Senate to an emergency session so we can take immediate action,” Schumer said during a rally in a Walmart parking lot in Long Island, N.Y. 

Asked what the hold up on the bill is, Schumer said: “Leader McConnell is not putting it on the floor. That's what's holding it back. That's it!”

The shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, over the weekend rocked the nation and have fueled a renewed discussion over what, if any, action Congress will take. 

Democrats and activists believe they have public support on their side as they try to keep the pressure on McConnell, who is up for reelection next year in a deeply red state.

A Quinnipiac University national poll released in late May found that 94 percent of American voters support requiring background checks for all gun buyers, and 90 percent of gun owners support universal background checks.  

During a conference call with House Democrats this week, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump praises 'domination' of DC protesters Pelosi, Schumer say treatment of protesters outside White House 'dishonors every value that faith teaches us' Democrats call for Congress to take action following death of George Floyd MORE (D-Calif.) put the focus on McConnell, telling members that the GOP has to “feel the public sentiment on this,” according to a Democratic aide on the call.

“We have to get this bill passed, and Mitch McConnell is the roadblock to it,” Pelosi said. 

The House passed a universal background check bill in February. Another bill that passed the House would lengthen the amount of time a gun seller has to wait for an FBI background check to clear from three days to 10 days. 

“They have been sitting over there. The Grim Reaper said he is not going to bring them up,” Pelosi added.  

But McConnell is showing no signs of caving to pressure and is facing little internal criticism from his own caucus over the strategy. 

Part of the calculus is that Republicans believe the two House bills could not pass in the GOP-controlled Senate and have garnered a veto threat from the White House. The House bill to expand background checks passed with only eight Republican votes. The Senate’s companion legislation has 42 co-sponsors, none of whom are Republicans. 

“What I think we should do is instead of talking past one another is sit down ... and see what we can get done. The House bills are very imperfect,” Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump expected to visit Maine despite governor's concerns Democrats gear up to hit GOP senators on DACA OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration gives renewables more time to take advantage of tax credits | House Republicans introduce bill to speed mining projects for critical minerals | Watchdog faults EPA communications in contamination of NC river MORE (R-Maine) told WGAN, a Maine radio station. 

McConnell took a veiled jab at Democrats in the one statement he has released about the shootings, warning that “partisan theatrics” wouldn’t result in Congress passing a bill. 

“Only serious, bipartisan, bicameral efforts will enable us to continue this important work and produce further legislation that can pass the Senate, pass the House and earn the president’s signature. Partisan theatrics and campaign-trail rhetoric will only take us farther away from the progress all Americans deserve,” McConnell said. 

The two chambers appear to be moving in different directions, raising questions about what, if anything, Congress will be able to pass. 

Schumer was asked on Tuesday about “red flag” legislation, which is meant to help law enforcement identify individuals who should be blocked from buying a gun. He said it was “OK” but “not enough.” 

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyMissouri state lawmaker sparks backlash by tweeting 'looters deserve to be shot' The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Khanna says President Trump threatening violence against US citizens; Trump terminating relationship with WHO Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day MORE (D-Conn.) noted he has been texting and calling his GOP colleagues but hadn’t picked up a Republican co-sponsor for his background check bill and hadn’t gotten “much interest at all in trying to find other middle ground.” 

“McConnell doesn’t want to bring this vote up because he doesn't want to put his members in between 95 percent of their constituents and the gun lobby,” he said during an interview with MSNBC. “My expectations are low.” 

The politics of gun legislations are fraught in the Senate.

In 2013, a background check bill failed in a 54-46 vote when Democrats controlled the upper chamber. Of the four Republicans who voted for the bill at the time only two remain in office: Collins and Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyGOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy NSA 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 MORE (Pa.). 

This time McConnell has tapped three Republican chairmen — Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamWhat you need to know about FBI official Dana Boente's retirement Rosenstein steps back into GOP crosshairs The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US MORE (S.C.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSenate GOP chairman criticizes Trump withdrawal from WHO Trump: US 'terminating' relationship with WHO Soured on Fox, Trump may be seeking new propaganda outlet MORE (Tenn.) and Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerBottom line GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day MORE (Miss.) — to brainstorm potential bipartisan responses. The decision allows McConnell to buy time for Republicans to weigh their options as the news cycle moves on. 

Graham praised McConnell, saying the GOP leader is “seeking solutions rather than political blame.” 

“Really appreciate talking with Senator McConnell ... and appreciate his desire to find bipartisan solutions after these tragic shootings,” Graham tweeted about a phone conversation with McConnell. 

Republican senators have started talking privately amongst themselves about what potential legislation could look like, but there’s little cohesion so far with senators floating myriad bills. 

Toomey and Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight Stakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Surgeon General stresses need to invest much more in public health infrastructure, during and after COVID-19; Fauci hopeful vaccine could be deployed in December MORE (D-W.Va.) are doubling down on their bill to expand background checks. Toomey told reporters during a conference call that he had spoken with McConnell but declined to characterize their conversation. 

“I intend to do everything I can to persuade Sen. McConnell if that’s necessary,” Toomey said. “It's important to me that we get that vote.”

Collins noted she would support closing some “loopholes” on selling guns and so-called no fly, no buy legislation, which allows the attorney general to deny the sale of a firearm to individuals on the no-fly list or a selectee list that subjects airline passengers to additional screening. 

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanIs Trump encouraging the world's use of national security as stealth protectionism? House Republican offers bill to create 'return to work bonus' Soured on Fox, Trump may be seeking new propaganda outlet MORE (R-Ohio) sidestepped saying if he thought Congress should return from the August recess, but urged his colleagues to support red flag legislation. He characterized himself as “encouraged” by McConnell’s remarks and noted that he’s spoken with Graham, who is expected to introduce red flag legislation with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). 

No GOP senator has publicly called for McConnell to bring them back into session. August is typically a time when lawmakers travel their states, go on vacation or participate in trips known as congressional delegations. 

Toomey warned that forcing lawmakers to come back to Washington to have immediate votes on gun-related legislation could damage the chances of passing a bill. 

“I don't think we'd accomplish anything if we did and it might end up actually being counterproductive,” he said. “If we force a vote tomorrow then I think the vote probably fails.”