Trump nears decision on background checks

President TrumpDonald John TrumpAlaska Republican Party cancels 2020 primary Ukrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' MORE is close to a decision on potential gun legislation, according to a group of senators involved in negotiations on background checks.

Sens. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights GOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan Trump administration floats background check proposal to Senate GOP MORE (D-Conn.), 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 (R-Pa.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinO'Rourke gun confiscation talk alarms Democrats Clarence Thomas, Joe Manchin, Rudy Giuliani among guests at second state visit under Trump Schumer: I don't know any 'Democrat who agrees' with O'Rourke on gun seizures MORE (D-W.Va.), who spoke with Trump for roughly 40 minutes on Wednesday, say they expect to know this week, as soon as Thursday, whether Trump will be able to endorse expanding background checks and other potential gun-law reforms. 

"We're going to know hopefully by tomorrow if there's something that we can all agree on, and once we agree on something we're going to hold to it," Manchin told a gaggle of reporters.

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Murphy characterized the next 48 hours as the "witching hour" to know if Trump and the three senators will be able to clinch an agreement on background checks in the wake of three mass shootings. 

"I think we'll know soon, within the next day or two, whether or not the White House is really willing to put a substantive background checks expansion bill on the table," Murphy said. 

Toomey was more cautious, saying Thursday was the discussed date for a "step forward" from Trump but it wasn't "carved in stone."

Speaking at the White House, Trump told reporters that he plans to speak again with Manchin, Murphy and Toomey on Thursday. 

“We are working very, very hard together, all of us. And we’ll see if we can come up with something that’s acceptable to all of us,” he said.

Trump added that they were “looking at background checks” as part of a larger package. 

“We’re looking at putting everything together in a unified way so that we can have something that’s meaningful. At the same time, all of us want to protect our great Second Amendment,” he said. 

The phone call between the three senators and the president came after Trump met with members of Republican leadership at the White House on Tuesday, where, according to GOP lawmakers who attended the meeting, they discussed potential gun-law reforms. 

White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland also attended the GOP lunch on Tuesday. 

The conversation between Trump and senators, the lawmakers said, largely focused on expanding background checks to cover all commercial sales, similar to 2013 legislation from Manchin and Toomey.

"The core idea is that you have background checks on commercial sales," Toomey said. "There are any number of tweaks that would be possible. ... That could be worked out. But I think the heart of it is what we were talking about today, the idea of applying background checks to commercial sales." 

The push for new legislation comes after nearly 40 people were killed in mass shootings last month in Odessa and El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. 

The White House has been talking with lawmakers about potential legislation, while Democrats are calling for the GOP-controlled Senate to take up gun-law reform measures already passed by the House, including one on background checks.

Republicans have been wary about committing to a specific piece of legislation until they get a sign about what Trump will support. The Senate previously rejected bipartisan legislation from Manchin and Toomey that would have expanded background checks to all commercial sales. 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate Judiciary Committee requests consultation with admin on refugee admissions Trump reignites court fight with Ninth Circuit pick Trump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition MORE (R-S.C.), a close ally of Trump's, said on Wednesday that he thought the president was interested in expanding background checks.

"We’ve got some bumps but I think we’re getting there," Graham told reporters.

Murphy, Manchin and Toomey said Trump remained open to background check legislation, but did not specifically say he would support one proposal or another.

"He did strongly convey an interest in doing something meaningful and something that we would be able to embrace and that could pass," Toomey told reporters. 

Murphy said that it was time for Trump to make decisions about what he would, or would not, support as part of potential gun legislation. 

In addition to background checks, Trump has also talked up mental health and "red flag" laws, which allow family members or law enforcement to get a judge's order to temporarily block an individual from buying a gun.

"I think it's good news that the president is still personally engaged. We had a long, wide-ranging conversation. We got into the details for the first time," Murphy said.

If senators are able to get a deal with Trump, it would mark the best chance gun legislation has had in Congress since the failed Manchin-Toomey vote in 2013. 

But Trump hasn't publicly committed to supporting legislation. He previously appeared open to gun-law reforms — including expanding background checks and a potential assault weapons ban — after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, only to reverse course after pressure from conservatives and the gun lobby. 

The talk with Trump comes as Democrats have urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDC statehood push faces long odds despite record support Overnight Energy: California, 23 other states sue Trump over vehicle emissions rule | Climate strike protests hit cities across globe | Interior watchdog expands scope of FOIA investigation | Dems accuse officials of burying climate reports Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Zuckerberg to 'cooperate' on antitrust probes | Dems see victory after McConnell backs election security funds | Twitter takes down fake pro-Saudi accounts MORE (R-Ky.) to take up a House-passed universal background checks bill. The bill earned a veto threat from Trump, and McConnell has refused to bring up gun legislation that the White House doesn’t support.

"Universal basically scares the bejeezus out of some people because they think it reaches further than what it should reach. Commercial — no one should be threatened by commercial," Manchin said, recalling his message to Trump.

Murphy said he still puts the chances of a deal on expanding background checks at less than 50-50, because of pressure from the gun lobby, but that he was "encouraged." 

He added that he reiterated to Trump that any deal would spark "no" votes from Republicans and that supporting less universal background checks would be a "heavy lift" for some Democrats. 

A bill would need 60 votes to get through the GOP-controlled Senate. It could likely get pushback from conservative Republicans as well as progressive Democrats who feel it doesn't go far enough. 

"We made it clear that if this is a compromise it's going to be a real compromise," Murphy said. "It's going to ultimately have some Republican 'no' votes and some Democratic 'no' votes." 

—Brett Samuels contributed.