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Conflicted Senate GOP fears clash with NRA

Conflicted Senate GOP fears clash with NRA
© Greg Nash - UPI

President TrumpDonald TrumpGiuliani used provisional ballot to vote in 2020 election, same method he disparaged in fighting to overturn results Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Fox News' DC managing editor Bill Sammon to retire MORE and his Republican allies are conflicted over whether to move forward with expanded background checks, a proposal that has overwhelming public support but risks a clash with the National Rifle Association and other Second Amendment advocates ahead of the 2020 election.

The overwhelming majority of the Senate GOP conference is already on the record as opposing a compromise measure to expand background checks sponsored by Sens. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyGovernment used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 Appeals court rules NSA's bulk phone data collection illegal Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel MORE (R-Pa.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate majority offers Biden new avenues on Trump environmental rollbacks OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate majority offers Biden new avenues on Trump environmental rollbacks | Democrats eye action on range of climate bills | Biden pushing to cancel Keystone XL pipeline as soon as he takes office: reports Daily Beast reporter discusses prospects for K stimulus checks MORE (D-W.Va.), which the Senate defeated in 2013 and 2015.

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But many of them are likely to flip if Trump endorses a proposal to strengthen background checks, an idea that has consistently garnered strong ratings in public polls.

“I can tell you that there are Republican senators who were not here in 2015, the last time we had a vote, who are interested in this. There are Republican senators who were here and voted ‘no’ and they are rethinking,” Toomey said.

Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunTop Republican congressional aide resigns, rips GOP lawmakers who objected to Biden win Congress affirms Biden win after rioters terrorize Capitol Congress rejects challenge to Arizona's presidential vote MORE (R-Ind.), who was elected to the Senate last year, on Tuesday said he is open to expanded background checks.

“I’m interested in that as well as long as it doesn’t cross the threshold of impacting a law-abiding citizen in any way in terms of how he or she might want to access a weapon,” he said.

White House officials told Senate Republicans on Tuesday they are working on a package of proposals to address gun violence after several mass shootings rocked the nation over the August recess.

White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland has told GOP leaders the proposal could come as soon as this week.

One Republican senator who voted against Toomey-Manchin six years ago told The Hill that he would consider changing his position.

“Ninety-five percent of the transfers at gun shows are not between individuals, they’re with dealers. When people go to gun shows, they’re prepared to have a background check and they do it instantly. Background checks at gun shows are most often the rule,” the senator said. “As much as I support the Second Amendment, I just cannot understand how it’s that much of an intrusion to have a background check between individuals.”

Toomey and other advocates of expanded background checks note that National Rifle Association chief executive Wayne LaPierre testified before the House in 1999 in favor of universal background checks, a position the gun rights group has since abandoned.

Toomey, who has been in regular contact with the president, on Tuesday said the president has expressed a willingness to strengthen background checks and described Toomey’s proposal as having the most “resonance” and the best chance of becoming law.

“I’ve spoken with the president repeatedly, probably a half a dozen times by now,” Toomey told reporters. “The president has been very engaged. He’s been very receptive.”

“He is open to doing something in this space and from my conversations with him and confirmed by his staff, he has not yet made a decision regarding exactly what he’s going to support,” he said.

GOP leaders on Monday said Trump is expected to get a full briefing on policy options as soon as Thursday and then make his recommendation to Capitol Hill Republicans about what he’s willing to support.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhat would MLK say about Trump and the Republican Party? Biden's minimum wage push faces uphill battle with GOP GOP senators wrestle with purging Trump from party MORE (R-Ky.) and other Republican lawmakers are waiting for a sign from Trump before taking a position on expanded background checks.

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“We’re waiting for something we know if it passed would actually become law, and until the White House gives us some indication of what the president is willing to sign, we’re waiting to see what it looks like,” McConnell said.

Asked whether he personally thought it reasonable to mandate background checks for all commercial gun sales, McConnell replied, “I’m going to wait and assess the proposal that actually could become law.”

White House officials at this point are mulling whether to include background checks legislation in a bigger package along with several other proposals addressing gun violence, according to senators familiar with the negotiation.

Other proposals under consideration include so-called red-flag legislation, which would allow courts to temporarily confiscate weapons from individuals considered dangerous, and a bill sponsored by Toomey and Sen. Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsSenate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster Security concerns mount ahead of Biden inauguration Trump impeachment collides with Biden's agenda MORE (D-Del.) that would require law enforcement officers to be notified when someone fails a background check while attempting to purchase a gun.

Toomey said he is working with GOP colleagues to address their concerns about his old legislation.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioFlorida Republicans close ranks with Trump after Capitol siege Confirmation hearing for Biden's DNI pick postponed McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time MORE (R-Fla.), who represents Parkland where 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, said on Tuesday there are concerns that expanded background-check requirements would make it tougher for nondealers to sell their guns online.  

“I haven’t voted for it in the past,” he said. “I have concerns throughout that I have expressed in the past, in particular about putting an undue burden on an everyday person who’s not in the business of selling guns.”

Rubio said he’s worried about requiring a nondealer who wants to sell a gun “to potentially go out and undertake a background check they’d be liable for.”

“The NICS system is not an easy-to-access system,” he said of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

One possible change to the Toomey-Manchin proposal would make it easier for individuals who live in remote rural areas to obtain background checks through federally licensed firearms dealers.

Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to pressure McConnell to bring to the Senate floor a gun-violence package that passed the House in February.

“Enough is enough. Too many Americans are losing their lives to gun violence. It’s time to bring H.R. 8, the House-passed, bipartisan universal background checks bill to the floor for a vote,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerCowboys for Trump founder arrested following Capitol riot Graham pushes Schumer for vote to dismiss impeachment article Biden and the new Congress must protect Americans from utility shutoffs MORE (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday.

McConnell dismissed the Democrats’ call for action as a political “stunt” because Trump has already said he will veto the House bill.

“For months, what I have said consistently is let’s see if we can actually make a law here. And making a law when you have divided government is challenging,” McConnell said. “My members know the very simple fact that to make a law you have to have a presidential signature.”