McConnell faces pressure to bring Senate back for gun legislation

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocratic challenger to Joni Ernst releases ad depicting her as firing gun at him Senate confirms eight Trump court picks in three days The case for censuring, and not impeaching, Donald Trump 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 SchumerOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law | Michigan governor seeks to pause Medicaid work requirements | New front in fight over Medicaid block grants House, Senate Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law Why a second Trump term and a Democratic Congress could be a nightmare scenario for the GOP MORE (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Pete KingPeter (Pete) KingHouse GOP criticizes impeachment drive as distracting from national security issues Retiring lawmaker's 2018 opponent won't run for seat, citing 'difficult' pregnancies House panel advances flavored e-cigarette ban 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 TrumpTrumps light 97th annual National Christmas Tree Trump to hold campaign rally in Michigan 'Don't mess with Mama': Pelosi's daughter tweets support following press conference comments 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 Pelosi 'Don't mess with Mama': Pelosi's daughter tweets support following press conference comments Bloomberg: Trump should be impeached On The Money: Congress races to beat deadline on shutdown | Trump asks Supreme Court to shield financial records from House Democrats | House passes bill to explicitly ban insider trading 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 CollinsGiffords, Demand Justice to pressure GOP senators to reject Trump judicial pick Senate confirms eight Trump court picks in three days Lawmakers call for investigation into program meant to help student loan borrowers with disabilities 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 MurphyOvernight Defense: Trump clashes with Macron at NATO summit | House impeachment report says Trump abused power | Top Dem scolds military leaders on Trump intervention in war crimes cases Trump administration releases 5M in military aid for Lebanon after months-long delay Senate Democrats ask Pompeo to recuse himself from Ukraine matters 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 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 (Pa.). 

This time McConnell has tapped three Republican chairmen — Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution Hannity slams Stern for Clinton interview: 'Not the guy I grew up listening to' The Hill's Morning Report - Dem dilemma on articles of impeachment MORE (S.C.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSenate passes bipartisan bill to permanently fund historically black colleges Rick Perry says Trump is the 'chosen one' sent 'to do great things' Impeachment will make some Senate Republicans squirm MORE (Tenn.) and Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerTrade deal talks expand as Congress debates tech legal shield Hillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware Senators inch forward on federal privacy bill 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) ManchinNo one wins with pro-abortion litmus test Senate confirms Brouillette to replace Perry as Energy secretary Political purity tests are for losers 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 PortmanLawmakers call for investigation into program meant to help student loan borrowers with disabilities Senators sound alarm on dangers of ransomware attacks after briefing Senate roundtable showcases importance and needs of women entrepreneurs 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.”