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McConnell faces pressure to bring Senate back for gun legislation

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Klain on Harris breaking tie: 'Every time she votes, we win' How to pass legislation in the Senate without eliminating the filibuster 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 SchumerChuck SchumerRon Johnson forces reading of 628-page Senate coronavirus relief bill on floor Senate panel splits along party lines on Becerra House Democrats' ambitious agenda set to run into Senate blockade MORE (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Pete KingPeter (Pete) KingTop GOP lawmakers call for Swalwell to be removed from Intelligence Committee Republican Garbarino wins election to replace retiring Rep. Pete King Katko announces bid to serve as top Republican on Homeland Security panel 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 TrumpTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot Intelligence community investigating links between lawmakers, Capitol rioters Michelle Obama slams 'partisan actions' to 'curtail access to ballot box' 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 PelosiOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels Top Republican: 'Outrageous' to extend National Guard deployment at Capitol Progressives won't oppose bill over limits on stimulus checks 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 CollinsMurkowski votes with Senate panel to advance Haaland nomination OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior reverses Trump policy that it says restricted science | Collins to back Haaland's Interior nomination | Republicans press Biden environment nominee on Obama-era policy Republicans, please save your party 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 MurphyBiden reignites war powers fight with Syria strike Gun violence prevention groups optimistic background check legislation can pass this Congress Democrats reintroduce gun sale background check legislation 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 ToomeySasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote Philly GOP commissioner on censures: 'I would suggest they censure Republican elected officials who are lying' Toomey censured by several Pennsylvania county GOP committees over impeachment vote MORE (Pa.). 

This time McConnell has tapped three Republican chairmen — Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Here's who Biden is now considering for budget chief House Democratic leaders back Shalanda Young for OMB after Tanden withdrawal MORE (S.C.), Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderCongress addressed surprise medical bills, but the issue is not resolved Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (Tenn.) and Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 | Kerry presses oil companies to tackle climate change | Biden delays transfer of sacred lands for copper mine Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March 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) ManchinOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels Progressives won't oppose bill over limits on stimulus checks Senate votes to take up COVID-19 relief bill 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 PortmanMandel gets Club for Growth nod in Ohio Senate primary Rick Scott caught in middle of opposing GOP factions Five takeaways from dramatic Capitol security hearing 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.”