Despite pressure, still no gun legislation position from White House

Meanwhile, Democrats on Capitol Hill intend to keep up pressure

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley were among the participants at a news conference in the Capitol to call on the Senate to vote on the Bipartisan Background Checks Act. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley were among the participants at a news conference in the Capitol to call on the Senate to vote on the Bipartisan Background Checks Act. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted September 9, 2019 at 6:44pm

House and Senate Democrats intend to keep pressuring President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to support bipartisan efforts to close what they see as loopholes in background checks for gun purchases.

But a meeting Monday between White House officials and leaders of the U.S. Conference of Mayors left little room for optimism.

Bryan Barnett, the president of the Conference of Mayors, sought to sound upbeat when meeting with reporters in the Capitol Visitor Center, but he also made clear the administration did not make any specific commitments.

“I would say, as characterized by other folks, that the conversation was robust,” said Barnett, the mayor of Rochester Hills, Mich. “While we had a very singular message, the White House team talked about a suite of solutions, and referred to not just focusing on one particular response to this, but to look at a series of other things.”

The mayors said the White House told them background checks would be on the table, but the administration expanded the discussion. Multiple mayors said they brought a single message, focused on the background checks measure the House passed in February to require reviews before gun show and online sales.

“I, too, thought the meeting was constructive, but listening has to turn into action, and that’s what we’re asking for now. We’ve done enough listening, we’ve done enough analysis. It’s time to move forward,” said Charles Ramsey, an adviser to the Conference of Mayors best known around the Capitol from his time as chief of Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department.

Earlier in the afternoon, Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton, Ohio, joined Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York and other Democrats at a news conference calling for Trump and McConnell to act.

Pelosi and Schumer wrote to Trump on Sunday, seeking his support for the bill already passed by the House to expand background checks, citing McConnell’s comments last month that the Senate was waiting for White House guidance.

“We implore you to seize this moment when your leadership and influence over Republicans in Congress on the issue of guns is so critical,” Pelosi and Schumer wrote. “We believe you have a unique opportunity to save American lives by giving political cover to your fellow Republicans to finally pass meaningful gun safety legislation.”

Democrats intend to keep the pressure on Trump. A Democratic aide noted that next week will be 200 days since the House passed its background checks bill.

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., has kept talking to the White House, but he said in a statement Monday he thought the clock was ticking, which he further emphasized on Twitter.

“I’m willing to compromise — lives are at stake — but If we don’t make progress this week, I fear that it’s going to be Groundhog Day all over again,” Murphy tweeted.

Democratic lawmakers said Monday that during the August recess, following mass shootings in El Paso and Odessa, Texas, as well as Dayton, conversations with Trump led them to believe he wanted to act, that is before he vacillated.

“I had the impression that he understood that lives were at stake,” Pelosi said. “My message to the president, to Leader McConnell is the following: there isn’t anyone in this institution or anywhere else in public life whose political survival is more important than the survival of our children and the safety of our communities.”

A Democratic aide familiar with the discussions said discussions are ongoing with the White House, and there is little chance the issue goes away.

Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown and Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, were among those joining Pelosi and Schumer and stressed that point as well.

“Why is this different now from what it was a month ago? It’s different because Republican senator after Republican senator, in states like Maine and North Carolina and Arizona and Colorado, senators that are fearful of what’s going to happen in their reelection fights, are out campaigning in August,” Brown said. “They’re hearing from voter after voter after voter.”

Brown said he thought vulnerable Republican incumbents on the 2020 ballot could sway McConnell.

“He’s going to hear it from his own members,” Brown said.

Stabenow compared the pressure from Democrats and outside groups to the effort to derail GOP rollbacks of the 2010 health care law. The Michigan Democrat also said the caucus would use any available leverage, though those options are limited under current Senate rules.

“I wish we could hold up nominees. I mean, if we could hold up nominees, we would. We would be doing that,” Stabenow said. “We will use all the tactics that we have.”