Administration

Senators want Biden to stay out of gun talks

Senate negotiators working to come to an agreement on gun violence legislation are asking the White House to stay out of the talks.

Some have said that President Biden’s involvement wouldn’t be “helpful” after he called on Congress to pass gun control measures, some of which aren’t even supported by all 50 Democrats.

The White House spent much of last week going back and forth about how much involvement, if any, the administration would have in the talks, eventually settling on messaging that the president would give Congress space to negotiate. 

Then an about-face came on Thursday when Biden gave a prime-time speech calling on Congress to pass a host of measures that lawmakers say are not part of the negotiations, resulting in some head-scratching over the direction the White House was heading on the matter.

Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.), the lead Democratic negotiator on gun violence talks, indicated that although he has been in communication with the White House about the negotiations, even Democrats on Capitol Hill think discussions have a better chance of bearing fruit without the involvement of the president or his team.

“I think the Senate needs to do this ourselves,” Murphy said on CNN on Sunday. “I have talked to the White House every single day since these negotiations began. But right now, the Senate needs to handle these negotiations.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including Democrats and Republicans directly involved in the talks, have expressed some optimism — and caution — about whether any deal could be reached on gun violence legislation following the killing of 19 children at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y) has given lead negotiators a deadline of this week to reach an agreement, which Murphy emphasized needs to happen within that time frame. The Senate is in for the next three weeks before it takes off for the July 4 recess. 

Stewart Verdery, who helped negotiate crime and gun legislation when he was a Senate leadership and Judiciary Committee counsel, argued that pressure from the president on Capitol Hill could be counterproductive.

“The Senate may not work as intended as much as it used to, but it still works best in cases where there is not a statutory deadline for action when a bipartisan group can find compromise without public badgering by a president,” said Verdery, the founder of Monument Advocacy. 

“In 2022, a president pushing the other party to a deal creates a counter-reaction that is extremely counter-productive,” he added.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), meanwhile, on Monday appeared to pump the brakes on comments he made on television the day before in which he suggested that the Senate was closer to acting on gun control legislation than at any other time he’s served in the upper chamber.

“Cautiously, cautiously,” Toomey told Fox News in response to a question about whether he was optimistic about negotiators producing an agreement. “This is — this is a big challenge.”

On Sunday, Toomey also took a jab at Biden, saying the president was “not being very helpful” after the chief executive delivered a rare prime-time address calling for Congress to ban assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines or to raise the purchasing age for those guns from from 18 to 21. 

Biden also called for Congress to expand background checks, pass “red flag” laws and safe storage requirements, and repeal the liability shield for gun manufacturers and dealers.

“This is going to come down to whether we can reach a consensus in the United States Senate,” Toomey said.

The White House on Monday said Biden was “encouraged by the discussions” on Capitol Hill and that legislative affairs teams have been in close contact with Senate negotiators. 

“We would respectfully disagree with Sen. Toomey,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Monday when asked to respond to the idea that Biden hasn’t been helpful.  

“He can’t do it all alone, right? He has taken some actions, some executive actions,” she said. “And he believes that Congress should continue to act, and we are going to see how the negotiations go. We’re going to give it the space it needs.”

A renewal of the 1994 assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, is highly unlikely to pass the Senate and overcome the 60-vote threshold. A key moderate Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), said on Monday that he backs raising the age to 21 to buy semi-automatic rifles, but Republicans are still at odds with legislation that would in any way restrict gun purchases.

Toomey essentially called Biden’s speech ineffective because “he advocated policies that he knows for sure have no chance of passing the Senate — probably couldn’t even get 50 votes and hold the Democrats, much less get the 60 we would need.”

John LaBombard, former communications director to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), argued that aspirational statements from Biden that don’t reflect reality won’t help to get legislation done.

“When legislating, we need to start by recognizing the reality of vote margins, and some of President Biden’s proposed solutions have no chance of earning the necessary support in a 50-50 split Senate,” said LaBombard, now a senior vice president at ROKK.

“The senators engaged in these negotiations know better than anyone else what’s realistically possible — and they have much more credibility than the White House does with the Republican Senators we’ll need if a deal is reached,” LaBombard added.

Tags Biden Charles Schumer Chris Murphy Pat Toomey
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