McConnell faces pressure to bring Senate back for gun legislation

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi, Schumer press for gun screenings as Trump inches away The malware election: Returning to paper ballots only way to prevent hacking First House Republican backs bill banning assault weapons 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 SchumerJohnson eyes Irish border in Brexit negotiations Lewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid MORE (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Pete KingPeter (Pete) Thomas KingFirst House Republican backs bill banning assault weapons The 9 House Republicans who support background checks Progressive gun control activist on NRA: 'Don't count them out' 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 TrumpFacebook releases audit on conservative bias claims Harry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' Recessions happen when presidents overlook key problems 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 PelosiJohnson eyes Irish border in Brexit negotiations Mueller report fades from political conversation Five key players in Trump's trade battles 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 CollinsCook Political Report moves Susan Collins Senate race to 'toss up' The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move 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: 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 Trump phoned Democratic senator to talk gun control 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 GrahamTwo-thirds of Republicans support 'red flag' gun laws: NPR poll Red flag laws won't stop mass shootings — ending gun-free zones will Pelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid MORE (S.C.), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? McConnell faces pressure to bring Senate back for gun legislation Criminal justice reform should extend to student financial aid MORE (Tenn.) and Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerHillicon Valley: Trump reportedly weighing executive action on alleged tech bias | WH to convene summit on online extremism | Federal agencies banned from buying Huawei equipment | Lawmakers jump start privacy talks The Hill's Morning Report - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? Lawmakers jump-start talks on 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) ManchinSunday shows - Recession fears dominate Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Trump vows to 'always uphold the Second Amendment' amid ongoing talks on gun laws 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 PortmanSchumer blasts 'red flag' gun legislation as 'ineffective cop out' McConnell faces pressure to bring Senate back for gun legislation Shaken Portman urges support for 'red flag' laws after Ohio shooting 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.”