Wouldn’t it be nice to take Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at his word when he says background checks will be “front and center” in an upcoming debate about guns? The Post reports, “The Kentucky Republican, in his first interview since the shootings left 31 dead and dozens injured, specifically mentioned expanding background checks on gun purchases and ‘red-flag’ laws, which would allow authorities to confiscate a firearm from someone deemed a risk to themselves or the public.” However, all he would say is that he’ll “see what we can come together on and pass.” He then discounted the possibility background checks would ever pass. Well, that doesn’t sound like someone invested in passing something.
Moreover, while he insisted that the “urgency of this is not lost on any of us, because we’ve seen too many of these horrendous acts,” he finds insufficient urgency to justify calling Congress back from its August recess. That should be the first clue he wants to slow things down and throw sand in the gears, not push forward for a quick deal when public interest is high.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) isn’t bothering to plead with McConnell. Instead she wrote to President Trump (who was for background checks before the NRA leaned on him after the Parkland school shooting, a pattern we see once again). She said in a letter sent Thursday:
I am writing in good faith to request that you call the United States Senate back into session immediately under your powers in Article II Section 3 of the Constitution to consider House-passed bipartisan gun violence prevention legislation.
One of the first acts of the new Congress was to pass the Bipartisan Background Checks Act (H.R. 8) and the Enhanced Background Checks Act (H.R. 1112). H.R. 8 simply expands the existing background checks law to include guns sold at gun shows, online and through person-to-person sales. Commonsense background checks are supported by more than 90 percent of the American people and are proven to save lives. H.R. 8 was so named because it was passed eight years after the deadly attack on Congresswoman Gabby Giffords that stole six lives. The House also passed H.R. 1112, closing the dangerous Charleston loophole that enabled the tragic hate crime at Mother Emanuel Church that killed nine devout parishioners engaged in worship.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for Trump to force McConnell’s hand, and don’t bet the farm McConnell will allow anything to pass that rankles the National Rifle Association — or even force Republican members to vote on something that the NRA finds disagreeable.
McConnell, just as he did on immigration reform and the shutdown, won’t put on the floor anything that doesn’t have 60 votes and Trump’s approval. But if Trump doesn’t think there’s. . . . You got it. This is the same old routine we’ve seen so many times. Like Charlie Brown, we can go racing toward the football only to have Lucy (Trump or McConnell, take your pick) pull it away.
That’s why Thursday evening Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) put out a joint statement, seeking to put pressure on McConnell. “We spoke to the President separately this afternoon and told him the best way forward to address gun violence in our country is for Leader McConnell to let the Senate take up and pass the House-passed universal background checks legislation and for the President to sign it into law. The President gave us his assurances that he would review the bipartisan House-passed legislation and understood our interest in moving as quickly as possible to help save lives.”
You see, if McConnell and Trump can play Alphonse and Gaston (You first! No, you!), Pelosi and Schumer can try to pit Trump (ever desirous of being the hero and lacking any fixed policy views) against McConnell, both of whom are on the ballot in 2020.
The NRA’s traditional approach after these incidents is to insist it’s “too soon” to discuss legislation, stall for time, hope passions cool and then do nothing. However, in this case, the usual rigmarole may not pay off. For one thing, gun safety forces are much better organized than in the past. They can use the recess to stir up pressure on lawmakers (just as progressives have used town halls to generate blow back to efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act). And tragically, the longer the Congress stalls the greater the likelihood that another of these incidents will occur.
One would like to be optimistic that public opinion will finally prevail and that Republicans will be forced to defy the NRA. Let’s not count on it, however. In all likelihood it will take a Democratic president and a Democratic Senate (and perhaps eliminating the filibuster) to get meaningful gun legislation. That’s precisely why you see every democratic presidential contender striving to be the most sincere and determined leader on gun safety. Right now, they know the public is with them. Overwhelmingly.