Senators say Trump open to expanding background checks

Senators say Trump open to expanding background checks
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President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump defends indicted GOP congressman House to vote Thursday on holding Bannon in contempt Youngkin calls for investigation into Loudoun County School Board amid sexual assault allegations MORE appears poised to decide whether to support expanding background checks and other gun-law reforms as lawmakers work to respond to a spate of mass shootings over the summer.

Trump's decision, which lawmakers expect as soon as Thursday, marks a make-or-break moment for the chances of passing legislation in response to shootings in Texas and Ohio that killed dozens.

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The president has been careful not to tip his hand for weeks about potential policy responses, but senators say he’s open to expanding background checks — a potential momentum shift for gun legislation that has stalled on Capitol Hill for years.

"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," Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinWhite House: Window for finalizing sweeping budget package 'closing' Progressives see budget deal getting close after Biden meeting Democrats at odds with Manchin over child tax credit provision MORE (D-W.Va.) told reporters Wednesday.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyExpats plead with US to deliver COVID-19 vaccines Growing number of Democrats endorse abolishing debt limit altogether Senate approves short-term debt ceiling increase MORE (D-Conn.) characterized the following 48 hours as the "witching hour" to know if Trump and the handful of senators who have been negotiating on gun proposals will be able to clinch an agreement.

"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.

Trump spoke by phone on Wednesday with Murphy, Manchin and Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyBlack women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote MORE (R-Pa.), with the three pitching him on legislation to expand background checks to all commercial gun sales.

The three senators credited Trump as being interested and engaged in trying to get a deal, with Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMayorkas tests positive for COVID-19 breakthrough case A pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Republicans' mantra should have been 'Stop the Spread' MORE (R-S.C.), a Trump ally, separately voicing optimism about a potential deal.

"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 about the conversation with Trump.

The talks, which are expected to continue Thursday, mark the latest turn in weeks of negotiations between senators and the White House, most of which have happened at the staff level.

Signaling Trump’s growing involvement, White House staff is expected to brief him on the issue Thursday. Trump also said he plans to speak again with Murphy, Manchin and Toomey.

“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,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

It's unclear what type of legislation Trump might support, and Senate Republicans have resisted bringing forward any gun bill that doesn't have his backing.

Trump said Wednesday that he and others 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.

Trump’s support is crucial in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFixing Congress requires fixing how it legislates McConnell: GOP should focus on future, not 'rehash' 2020 Hoyer: Democrats 'committed' to Oct. 31 timeline for Biden's agenda MORE (R-Ky.) has said he will only give a bill a vote if the president has indicated he will sign it.

“We do, in fact, await word from the White House about what the president is willing to sign. That's important to a lot of my members. It also, at the risk of repeating the history lesson, is the only way we will get along,” McConnell told reporters during a weekly press conference.

Democrats feel like they have public support on their side amid a recent spate of polling showing that a majority of Americans support background checks.

A Washington Post–ABC News poll released this week found that 89 percent of respondents, including 83 percent of Republicans, support requiring background checks for all potential gun buyers.

The House Judiciary Committee cleared three gun-related bills Tuesday night, including banning magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Another bill would incentivize states to establish so-called red-flag laws that allow family members or law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily block someone considered to be a threat from owning a gun.

But Republicans have been wary of taking a position on potential gun control legislation without knowing what Trump will eventually support.

The president previously appeared open to expanding background checks and potentially enacting an assault weapons ban after the high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., last year, but reversed course amid pressure from the gun lobby.

Graham, a close ally of Trump’s, told reporters Wednesday that he thought the president was interested in expanding background checks. 

"We’ve got some bumps, but I think we’re getting there," he said.

The Senate previously rejected a bill from Toomey and Manchin in 2013 that would have expanded background checks to all commercial sales. Two GOP senators still in the chamber, Toomey and Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsEmanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — FDA moves to sell hearing aids over-the-counter Rachel Levine sworn in as first openly transgender four-star officer in health corps MORE (Maine), voted for it at the time. Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyTrump-backed bills on election audits, illegal voting penalties expected to die in Texas legislature The Memo: Conservatives change their tune on big government Defense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals MORE (R-Utah), who was not in the Senate at the time, said he’s open to the bill “directionally” but needs to see the text. 

To get through the Senate, a gun bill would need 60 votes, meaning it needs to overcome potential pushback from conservative Republicans as well as progressive Democrats worried it doesn’t go far enough.

Murphy said he still put the chances at getting a deal at less than 50 percent and that he warned Trump it would have to be a “real compromise.” 

The House passed a universal background checks bill earlier this year, but that bill is viewed as unlikely to move in the Senate because it has earned a veto threat.

Toomey stressed Wednesday that Trump did not specifically commit to backing a bill, but that he remained open.

"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."

Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinEmanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing Manchin, Tester voice opposition to carbon tax Democrats feel high anxiety in Biden spending conflict MORE (D-Ill.) characterized himself as skeptical that Congress would be able to pass a bill.

"I think I have good reason, based on the performance — or lack of performance — by the Senate, to be skeptical. But I’m hopeful that maybe cooler heads prevail and Mitch McConnell will decide to be a senator,” he said.