Trump administration floats background check proposal to Senate GOP

Senate Republicans are responding cautiously to a new proposal to expand background checks for gun sales that the Trump administration is circulating on Capitol Hill.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want NYT in the White House Veterans group backs lawsuits to halt Trump's use of military funding for border wall Schiff punches back after GOP censure resolution fails MORE has yet to endorse the proposal, but the White House is taking the temperature of Senate Republican support for the idea.

“There are some ideas floating around that different members of the administration are coming up with and at this point it’s probably too early to say” if Republicans will support it, said Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTurkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate GOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate War of words at the White House MORE (S.D.).

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“Our members are going to be very — proceed with caution — very skeptical of some of the ideas that have been put out there in the past, but I think they’re willing to listen,” Thune added.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOvernight Defense: Trump weighs leaving some troops in Syria to 'secure the oil' | US has pulled 2,000 troops from Afghanistan | Pelosi leads delegation to Afghanistan, Jordan US troops leaving Syria cross into Iraq Graham says he's open-minded on supporting impeachment: 'Sure, I mean show me something that is a crime' MORE (R-S.C.) said he has not yet reviewed the administration’s memo on expanding background checks, which is along the lines of the amendment sponsored in 2013 by Sens. 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) ManchinOvernight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule Senate Dems lose forced vote against EPA power plant rule Schumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever MORE (D-W.Va.).

“I haven’t seen it but I talked to [Attorney General William] Barr yesterday. He’s going around talking to people. If he’s good with it, I’m good with it,” Graham said of the memo.

The memo, titled, “Idea for New Unlicensed-Commercial-Sale Background Checks,” proposes expanding background checks to all advertised commercial sales, including sales at guns shows, along the lines of the Manchin-Toomey proposal.

The document was first reported on by The Daily Caller.

Toomey, a lead Republican negotiator on expanding background checks, told reporters Wednesday that Barr, not the White House, drafted the memo.

"I have spoken with the attorney general. I think I have a pretty good idea of what he has in mind. I think it's a very thoughtful, very constructive, very creative way to accomplish some important goals," Toomey said.  

"I think a number of things are still in a work in progress, to some degree," he added.  

The memo floats the idea of conducting background checks for all commercial sales either through a federally licensed firearms dealer or a newly created class of licensed transfer agents.

Licensed transfer agents would not have an inventory of guns to sell but would be authorized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco to conduct background checks through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

Under the proposal, all commercial gun sales would produce two forms, a bill of sale that would record the details of the sale, and a certification from either a licensed firearms dealer or transfer agent recording that a successful background check has taken place.

If someone who attempts to buy a firearm fails a background check, that would be reported to law enforcement officials.

If the buyer passes the background check and purchases the firearm, the person who sells the gun would receive a copy of the form certifying that a successful background check was performed. Licensed gun dealers and transfer agents would not maintain these records, a provision intended to allay fears by Second Amendment advocates that the proposal could lead to the creation of a federal firearms registry.

The record-keeping requirements of the proposal would be enforced by civil penalties. People who sell guns would be granted the same civil immunity as federally licensed firearms dealers, according to the memo.

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount US ban on China tech giant faces uncertainty a month out Trump judicial nominee delayed amid GOP pushback MORE (R-Mo.), who met with Barr to discuss the proposal, said he’s still evaluating it and wants to know what Trump will wind up supporting.

"My question to the attorney general ... was what is the president going to support? What is the president going to put forward?” Hawley told reporters.

Asked about the specifics of the memo, Hawley said, "I need to evaluate it. It's more sort of a, I don't want to say thought experiment ... but it's more in the way that here's some ideas that one could turn into a concrete proposal." 

Hawley said Barr appears to be more brainstorming with GOP senators on expanded background checks instead of actively trying to sell them on the new ideas.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump slams 'very dumb' O'Rourke for proposals on guns, tax exempt status for churches GOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate Succession at DHS up in the air as Trump set to nominate new head MORE (R-Texas), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee who also has been involved in gun violence talks, said the administration’s memo is not a final offer to Capitol Hill.

“It’s not final by any means. The president hasn’t endorsed it, and there’s some question about when the president might actually do that,” he said.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Trump has had a rough October Pelosi, Schumer hit 'flailing' Trump over 'sham ceasefire' deal Romney slams ceasefire deal, calls Trump's Syria move 'a bloodstain' in US history MORE (D-Conn.), a leading gun control advocate who has participated in negotiations with the White House and fellow senators on expanding background checks, questioned why the proposal hasn’t been shared with Democrats.

“Not a single Democrat has seen this or signed off on it and my understanding is the president hasn’t approved it either. It’s hard to know whether this is constructive or not,” he said.

Murphy said he plans to speak to White House officials Wednesday afternoon.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonAmbassador Gordon Sondland arrives on Capitol Hill for testimony in impeachment inquiry GOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate Sondland could provide more clues on Ukraine controversy MORE (R-Wis.) said White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland presented some ideas for addressing gun violence during a meeting with GOP senators Monday night.

“There really is a very sincere and concerted effort to find areas where we can actually have effective measures passed that will help prevent, help mitigate where there are some of these mass shootings,” he said.

However, Johnson also sounded a note of skepticism.

“We all do realize that no matter what we do on guns, it’s not going to prevent these tragedies,” Johnson said. “There will always be a black market for some portion of those 400 million guns."

Asked whether he could support a proposal along the lines of Manchin-Toomey, Johnson noted, “I voted against it the last time.”

“In the end, the evaluation does come: What’s the purpose of this? Is it really going to prevent any of these [mass shootings?] No,” he said.

Ueland on Wednesday declined to say which White House officials were involved in drafting the ideas sheet.

“The president has asked us to respond and listen to perspectives, views, opinion and ideas, and tips, from members of Congress and that’s what we continue to do here,” he told reporters.