President Trump is facing a make-or-break moment on gun control amid growing pressure for him to lay out “guidelines” for what he would back.
Democrats are holding a full court press to sway Trump, including making appeals to his ego.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter to Trump, released on Monday, that they believed he was “uniquely positioned” and had a “unique opportunity” to bring Republicans to the table on background check legislation.
“We implore you to seize this moment when your leadership and influence over Republicans in Congress on the issue of guns is so critical. … We believe you have a unique opportunity to save American lives by giving political cover to your fellow Republicans to finally pass meaningful gun safety legislation,” the two wrote in the letter.
Democrats also rallied off the Senate floor on Monday to warn that Republicans would face steep political consequences if they do not approve universal background checks.
“Some of the gun violence prevention groups have upped the ante even further to say that if this bill is not passed, Mitch McConnell and Republicans in the Senate and the president will have hell to pay,” Pelosi said at a press conference.
Democrats believe they have public support on their side and were backed up by new polls released on Monday.
A Washington Post–ABC News poll found that 89 percent of Americans, including 83 percent of Republicans, support requiring background checks for all potential gun buyers. A Monmouth University Poll found that 83 percent of Americans back comprehensive background checks for all purchases, including 72 percent of Republicans.
But public support for expanding background checks for gun sales hasn’t yet led to a shift among congressional Republicans, who have lined up for years in opposition to gun reform legislation.
The House-passed universal background checks bill has stalled in the Senate, where no Republican has signed on to support it. And a bipartisan background checks proposal from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that would have included all commercial sales failed the Senate in 2013. Two Republicans still in the chamber, Toomey and Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), voted for it.
Republicans, who say they are in the dark about what Trump would support, are calling on the president to offer specifics about what legislation he’ll endorse. Senate Republicans are defending 23 seats in next year’s elections, most of them in deep-red territory where crossing Trump could be a political liability.
“We need a signal from the president about what he would sign before we get into talking about what we would vote on,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told The Hill on Monday, asked about support within the caucus on expanding background checks.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who did not mention gun control from the Senate floor on Monday, has linked giving a bill a vote on the Senate floor to Trump’s support, telling conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt last week that if “I know that if we pass it, it will become law, I’ll put it on the floor.”
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) called McConnell’s position “exactly right.”
“As precious as time is … we need to make sure that the president’s going to sign off on it, or we’ve wasted time,” he said.
The White House has been talking with a core group of senators, including Manchin, Toomey and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), about a potential agreement on background checks legislation. The White House has also indicated it will introduce its own package of proposals but provided no details about what might be included or when it’s coming.
Murphy said he talked to the White House on Monday and was prepared to talk for another week, but “we’re just not there yet.”
Questions about what Trump will support has loomed over the debate on Capitol Hill, and trying to tie Trump down has been a struggle.
It’s a familiar dynamic, underscoring the hurdles for supporters who need Trump to take a position and stick with it.
“I’m hopeful President Trump will actually lead on this issue. … Take a position. Stick with it. The American people deserve no less,” Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.), who has spoken to the White House and his colleagues, told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
After a 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., Trump appeared to embrace expanding background checks, seemed open to an assault weapons ban and chided lawmakers for being “afraid” of the National Rifle Association. But he quickly backed down amid backlash from supporters and the gun lobby.
In the wake of the El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, shootings, Trump initially indicated that he would be open to “very meaningful background checks.”
But he’s since backed away and focused more of his comments on addressing issues with mental health.
He also appeared to dismiss the usefulness of background checks in preventing recent mass shootings, saying that “as strong as you make your background checks, they would not have stopped any of it.”
Murphy said on Monday that he was still negotiating but warned that the window for a deal was closing.
“I think time is running short to find a compromise on background checks. I’m still negotiating in good faith to find a bipartisan proposal that will expand checks to cover more commercial sales and save lives, and I continue to take the president at his word that he wants the same thing,” Murphy said.
“But as each day goes by, it seems more likely that we’re going to find ourselves back in a familiar place where 90 percent of the Americans who want more background checks are going to be disappointed once again,” he added.