Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer warned President Donald Trump on Sunday that any firearm legislation that falls short of universal background checks for gun sales “will not get the job done,” complicating delicate negotiations between the president and a group of senators.
Trump has been discussing potential legislation with senators in both parties that would expand background checks but would not go as far as House-passed legislation that would apply them to all gun sales with limited exceptions. Trump issued a veto threat on the House’s background-checks bill earlier this year, and few Republicans in Congress support it.
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But in a conversation with Trump on Sunday morning, the House speaker and Senate minority leader indicated to Trump that they were taking a much harder line than rank-and-file senators involved in the talks.
“This morning, we made it clear to the president that any proposal he endorses that does not include the House-passed universal background checks legislation will not get the job done, as dangerous loopholes will still exist and people who shouldn’t have guns will still have access,” Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement.
The two leaders said they promised to join Trump “for a historic signing ceremony at the Rose Garden” if the president would endorse the legislation and lean on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to pass it “to save as many lives as possible.”
Trump is still deliberating about what he will include in a firearms package that congressional Republicans are anxiously anticipating, and that could also include new legislation on so-called red flag laws — allowing intervention to remove guns from those who may be a danger to themselves or others — as well as straw purchases and domestic terrorism.
The boldest plan under discussion by Trump is one that would expand background checks to private sellers currently exempt from background checks, a measure that is being pushed by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). The GOP has typically opposed such a proposal, but several Senate Republicans, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Mike Braun of Indiana, have expressed interest in those talks.
Trump remains the key, and he has kept senators in anticipation now for weeks. Murphy says he thinks Trump may see a political upside to cutting a deal.
“He clearly understands the politics of background checks,” Murphy said in an interview on Friday. “His political antenna is pretty sharp, at least on the issue of background checks and how popular they are.”
It will be a challenge to rally Democrats in support of a background-checks bill that falls short of universal checks, particularly given the left-leaning nature of the presidential primary and discussion of ideas like buybacks of assault weapons and gun licensing.
But Murphy seemed optimistic about building on Manchin and Toomey’s bill from 2013. “Manchin-Toomey has to be the framework. … I don’t think you can get Democratic votes for something that’s fundamentally less than Manchin-Toomey,” Murphy said.
Pelosi and Schumer are pushing for far more, which Republicans say they are unwilling to accept. Toomey has specifically called out Schumer and Pelosi as unhelpful in their rhetoric on background checks, and a number of GOP senators involved in the talks suggested that some Democrats would rather clobber Republicans over the issue in next year’s election than cut a deal with Trump.
“I focus more on Murphy because he’s more liberal and you might think he wouldn’t be willing to compromise for the sake of retaining the political issue. Because that’s where some people are on this issue,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said. “That’s not his approach.”
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.