WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats pressed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday to approve House-passed legislation expanding background checks and to take other steps curbing guns, in an offensive fueled by public outrage over this month’s mass killings in Texas and Ohio.
It seemed unlikely that Democrats’ moves would have much impact on top Republicans. While President Donald Trump and McConnell have expressed a new openness to unspecified gun curbs following the back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, their decisions will reflect the sentiment of fellow Republicans, not predictable pressure tactics by Democrats.
Still, Democrats’ moves underscore their focus on an issue that largely unites them — responding to the massacres that killed 31 people — and away from the party’s hand-wringing over whether to impeach Trump , a question that deeply divides Democrats.
McConnell, R-Ky., came under the sharpest attacks at a news conference held by No. 2 House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., five other House Democrats and gun activists and survivors of shootings.
Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., said McConnell hadn’t moved gun curb legislation because “he’s waiting for the outrage to die down, the headlines to change, the people to turn the page and think about something else.” Congress is out of town on recess until a week after Labor Day.
Hoyer resorted to reading lyrics from “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Bob Dylan’s 1962 song. “How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died,” Hoyer said, pausing for effect.
Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., cited statistics on the thousands of gun fatalities annually and said, “In the face of this epidemic, Mitch McConnell is doing nothing.”
Democrats focused on McConnell’s failure to let the Senate consider a measure the House approved in February. It would require background checks for most private sales, including online and gun show purchases of firearms, not just for transactions involving registered gun dealers.
The White House has threatened that Trump would veto that bill, which the Democratic-led House approved largely along party lines. In an interview last week with Louisville, Kentucky, radio station WHAS-AM, McConnell pointedly noted that for a proposal to become law, it must pass the House and Senate “and it has to be signed by President Trump.”
Trump told reporters in New Jersey on Tuesday that he’s “convinced that Mitch wants to do something” on guns. He added, “He wants to do background checks and I do too.”
Trump also said he’d had “a very good conversation” with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., a strong gun control advocate.
Trump provided no specifics and it was unclear how tough a background check measure Republicans might consider. McConnell said earlier this month that background checks and “red flags” — bills helping authorities remove guns from unstable people — would “probably lead the discussion.”
“What we can’t do is fail to pass something,” McConnell said. “What I want to see here is an outcome.”
Hoyer said the Democratic-run House Judiciary Committee will consider gun control legislation, though he stopped short of saying they would hold votes. He said the panel could discuss measures banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and making it easier for authorities to confiscate guns from unstable people.
The committee could return from recess in early September to consider gun measures, according people familiar with the panel’s plans who weren’t authorized to speak on the record.
Separately, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on Trump to divert $5 billion he’s wanted to build his wall along the southern border to investigating domestic terrorism and conducting research on gun violence.
“The dual scourges of gun violence and violent white supremacist extremism in this country are a national security threat plain and simple, and it’s time the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress starting treating them as such,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement.
Patrick Crusius, 21, accused of the El Paso shootings, has told authorities he was targeting Mexicans.
Schumer’s plea appeared to largely be an attempt to frame the issue politically, and it seemed highly unlikely Trump will heed it.
AP reporter Mary Clare Jalonick and congressional correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed.
Story has been corrected to reflect that Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer is the Senate minority leader, not the majority leader.