Sen. Chris Murphy isn’t giving up on the long-shot effort to pass expanded gun background checks. And, he says, neither is President Donald Trump.
Fresh off Thursday evening conversations with White House staffers and a recent call with the president himself, the Connecticut Democrat says it is still possible that Trump and Senate Republicans will act in the wake of several recent mass shootings. While Murphy puts the chances of movement at less than 50 percent and recognizes some may deem him naive, he said it’s his “obligation” to keep pushing.
Story Continued Below
“The president and the White House have been clear. That they are willing to support background checks legislation that might not today be popular in the Republican Party,” Murphy told reporters in Hartford, Conn., on Friday. “The president and the White House has made it clear that they are open to leading on this issue and trying to bring Republicans along with them.”
In their conversation on Aug. 11, Murphy said Trump “told me personally that he was indeed serious about moving forward together on what he called meaningful background checks legislation” and that he understood GOP senators would not back anything without Trump’s explicit support.
Murphy is seeking to dispel the idea that the president has already caved to the National Rifle Association in a conversation this week, which intersected with a change in the president’s rhetoric. Trump began emphasizing that strong background checks were already law and that confronting mental health was more important.
But on Wednesday, Trump said he had made no commitment to Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s president, even as the acknowledged gun owners are worried about a “slippery slope” curtailing their guns rights. Murphy said it was important to distinguish between Trump being open to universal background checks, which few Republicans support, and expanding background checks, which is more popular.
“We are going to be doing background checks,” Trump told reporters. “We already have very strong background checks but we are going to be filling in some of the loopholes, as we call them, at the border.”
Those remarks seemed to give new life to Murphy’s effort, though rank-and-file Republicans are drifting away without clear direction from the GOP’s standard-bearer. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said on Tuesday the dynamic on expanding background checks hasn’t changed. And Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who is tight with the Trump administration, cast doubt on both expanded red flags laws and background checks.
“What’s being proposed is not going to solve the problem and not make us safer,” Daines told reporters on Friday. “I’ve heard a lot of feedback from back home in Montana and most Montanans don’t believe that gun control is the answer.”
Daines suggested taking a look at legislation that could prevent adults from buying guns if they have been convicted of felonies like threatening schools as juveniles.
What’s under discussion among Murphy, GOP senators like Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Susan Collins of Maine and the White House is fairly modest. They are discussing expanding background checks but not making them universal, as the Democratic House’s bill would do. And a so-called red flag proposal aimed at stopping dangerous people from possessing firearms would create a grant program for states to implement those programs rather than create a new federal law.
Murphy said that even though as a “hard-liner” on gun regulations and a “skeptic” on Trump’s commitment, he thought the conversation was worth having. He hoped discussions would continue over the next two weeks of recess to ensure the firearms debate doesn’t stall out entirely before the Senate comes back from recess.
The White House is supposed to release new gun proposals in the coming weeks. And Murphy said the only way to clinch a result is for the president himself to back an actual piece of legislation and stick with it.
“Get behind a specific proposal,” he advised Trump. “So long as he is talking vaguely about his support for background checks or [red flags], very few Republicans are going to get behind” it.