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Top Democrats renew call for Senate to come back into session to pass background check legislation

Top congressional Democrats renewed calls on Monday for the Senate to reconvene and pass background check legislation in the wake of two mass shootings over the...
Capitol Hill

Top congressional Democrats renewed calls on Monday for the Senate to reconvene and pass background check legislation in the wake of two mass shootings over the weekend.

In a joint statement on Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “It is incumbent upon the Senate to come back into session to pass this legislation immediately,” referring to the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which passed out of the Democrat-controlled House in February.

The Democratic congressional leaders also criticized President Donald Trump in their joint-statement, calling him a “prisoner to the gun lobby and the NRA,” and accusing him of backing off a “call for stronger background check legislation.”

On Monday morning, Trump floated the idea of tying immigration legislation to strengthening background checks, tweeting, “Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks, perhaps marrying this legislation with desperately needed immigration reform.”

But in a speech later in the day, the President failed to endorse any measures that would expand background checks for firearm sales, despite his apparent endorsement of such laws earlier.

In his speech, the President called on the nation to condemn racism and white supremacy, but stopped short of acknowledging his own divisive and racist rhetoric. Trump did not mention specific measures to limit access to firearms except proposing “red flag” laws, which would prevent firearms access to people who are mentally ill. He also did not tie any gun action to immigration.

Pelosi makes clear Democrats need to focus on McConnell

In a private conference call on Monday with House Democrats, Pelosi made clear that House Democrats need to maintain their focus on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to move forward on background check legislation, according to multiple sources on the call.

But some members pushed for other measures to be taken up, including an assault weapons ban and the so-called red flag bill that would empower authorities to ensure people who pose a threat cannot access firearms.

Red flag legislation is backed by lawmakers in both parties, and the President has signaled his support for it, though there are differences in how they are structured. Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, released a statement Monday saying that he talked to Trump about red flag law grants and that Graham had “reached an agreement” with Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut “to create a federal grant program to assist and encourage states to adopt ‘Red Flag’ Protection Order laws.”

Nevertheless, Pelosi claimed to lawmakers that the families she has spoken with who have been victims to gun violence want the focus to be trained on McConnell and the background check legislation because they believe it would save the most lives, according to one of the sources on the call. Rep. James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, agreed, arguing that moving other measures could undercut efforts to get the Senate to act on background checks.

The speaker said that no legislation is off the table, saying that they needed to be timed accordingly and that the House Democrats need to keep the focus on McConnell.

Calls from Democrats grow louder for Senate action

There is so far no indication, however, that the Senate majority leader would move to take up the background check legislation that passed out of the Democrat-controlled House earlier this year.

The Senate and House are currently in a summer recess period and are not currently scheduled to be in session during the month of August in Washington, DC.

McConnell put out statements responding to the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio over the weekend. On Sunday, McConnell tweeted, “Sickening to learn this morning of another mass murder in Dayton, Ohio overnight. Two horrifying acts of violence in less than 24 hours. We stand with law enforcement as they continue working to keep Americans safe and bring justice.”

Separately, the Senate majority leader’s office announced on Sunday that McConnell had fractured his shoulder and is now recovering while working from his home in Louisville, Kentucky.

For now, Democrats don’t appear poised to end their calls.

The joint statement from Pelosi and Schumer comes after a number of high-profile congressional Democrats, including 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, argued over the weekend that McConnell should bring the Senate back into session for the purpose of passing background check legislation.