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Road Ahead: Will Congress, Trump agree to any new gun laws?

Environment legislation and appropriations will highlight the week while senators wait for the president

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is waiting to hear from President Donald Trump before moving on new gun legislation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is waiting to hear from President Donald Trump before moving on new gun legislation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Will Congress do anything about gun violence in September?

That question will be front and center as the House and Senate return to legislative business this week, even if the answer to the question may come down to one man on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue: President Donald Trump.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated last week that he would not be putting gun-related legislation on the Senate floor without assurances of a presidential signature.

“We’re in a discussion about what to do on the gun issue in the wake of these horrendous shootings. I said several weeks ago that if the president took a position on a bill, so that we knew we would actually be making a law, and not just having serial votes, I’d be happy to put it on the floor,” the Kentucky Republican told radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt. “The administration is in the process of studying what they’re prepared to support, if anything.”

McConnell said he expected to get a response from the White House this week.

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Senate Democrats involved in the gun talks remained cautiously optimistic throughout the August recess that an agreement could be reached.

“In addition to working to expand background checks, I am focused on building support for a bipartisan bill that I have with Sen. Toomey, the NICS Denial Notification Act, and I have been encouraged by recent conversations I’ve had with Senate Republicans and administration officials about the bill,” Delaware Sen. Chris Coons said in a statement last week, referring to his work with Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey.

“This commonsense legislation would simply provide states with information to help them enforce existing laws against individuals who attempt to purchase firearms but are prohibited from owning guns. Bipartisan support for gun safety legislation is growing, and there is an opportunity for the president to lead,” Coons added.

House Democratic leaders are quick to point out that they have already sent bipartisan background checks legislation to the Senate, but more committee action on the topic is expected this week.

All eyes will be on the House Judiciary Committee as it marks up additional gun safety legislation to compliment the House-passed universal background checks bill following several deadly mass shootings that occurred over the August recess.

The panel had planned to hold the markup last week but was forced to delay it because of Hurricane Dorian. The bills House Judiciary is considering would ban high-capacity magazines, provide grants for states to adopt so-called red flag laws and prevent individuals convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes from being able to own guns.

The full House may consider the measures later this month, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said in an end-of-recess “Dear Colleague” letter.

The House is having an environment-themed week on the floor, as it considers three bills to block oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts, and in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. Congress authorized oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as part of the 2017 tax overhaul, but Democrats were not party to that and would like to reverse the decision over environmental concerns.

“These bills will help protect our environment and the economies of coastal communities that rely on tourism, outdoor recreation, and fishing,” Hoyer wrote in the letter.

Senate rush

Meanwhile in the Senate, members of the Appropriations Committee will be quite busy. There are subcommittee markups of a pair of fiscal 2020 spending bills scheduled for Tuesday, with the full committee expected to meet Thursday to consider a total of four measures, as well as the annual subcommittee allocations.

The Senate floor will look awfully familiar. Before senators departed for the August break, McConnell had set up September votes on eight executive branch nominees. They include Dale Cabaniss to be director of the Office of Personnel Management and Michelle Bowman for a full 14-year term on the Federal Reserve’s board of governors.

There was also an agreement to hold over for September votes another five pending district judges. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to get back to work teeing up even more judicial nominations this week, as McConnell and Trump continue to prioritize getting more conservatives to the federal courts.

Charm City retreat

Later this week, House Republicans are heading on a brief road trip north to Baltimore for their annual retreat.

The GOP issues conference was originally scheduled for late January at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, but it was later postponed —a casualty of the partial government shutdown that welcomed the new year.

The Republican Conference is set to finally gather Thursday afternoon in the city that Trump in July called “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”

Trump accused House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, who is black, of helping to create the “mess” in Baltimore and claimed that the Maryland lawmaker himself is “racist.”

The Marriott Waterfront where the GOP retreat is taking place is not in Cummings’s Baltimore-area district, but just by about four blocks.

The annual retreat, sponsored by the Congressional Institute, is usually a time for the GOP caucus to focus on strategic planning for the year ahead, or in this case, the remainder of the year. The gathering will certainly take a different tenor than the last few, given that for the first time in many years, House Republicans will be strategizing from the minority.

Life in the minority could be one factor in the flood of retirement announcements by House Republicans that have emerged in recent weeks. Members of leadership may take time during the retreat to attempt to talk members on the fence into staying.

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