'We'd like to know where the president is': GOP leaders meet with Trump as pressure mounts on gun legislation

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Democrats are pressing President Donald Trump to intervene with Senate Republicans and demand passage of a bipartisan bill to expand background checks for gun purchases. (Sept. 9) AP, AP

WASHINGTON – Republicans in Congress looking to the president on how to address gun control could get an idea on Tuesday of where the administration stands on proposals aiming to curb violence in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings. 

Republican leaders in the House and Senate met at the White House Tuesday afternoon about the agenda for fall, which will include a focus on guns. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said repeatedly that he would only put gun legislation to a vote if it was something the president would sign into law, but the president has gone back and forth on various gun proposals, leaving lawmakers on Capitol Hill without a clear indication as to his position on the controversial issue. 

“[White House aides] are working on coming up with a proposal that the president will sign. Until that happens, all this is, is theatrics,” McConnell said Tuesday. “We’re waiting to see how we can actually achieve something on this issue.” 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., also said the meeting will examine “how do we do these bills and gun legislation in ways that we can make sure these horrific things that take place will never happen again.” 

After four high profile shootings this summer — most while Congress was on a six-week recess — Republicans are facing intense pressure to take up legislation on guns and congressional Democrats say they aren’t backing down. The most recent shooting, an attack in the area of Midland-Odessa area of Texas, left at least seven dead on Aug. 31. That shooting followed back-to-back-to-back massacres in Gilroy, Calif., El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. The four shootings left a total of 43 people dead and many more injured. 

Already this week, Democrats have held news conferences, a forum on gun violence and on Tuesday, are examining a trio of gun bills. The bills, though, are not expected to be brought up in the Senate. 

More: Poll: Americans don’t expect Congress to act on gun laws

More: After Texas shooting, McConnell says gun control legislation is up to Trump to decide

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McConnell attacked liberals for the series of press conferences and public events aimed at pressuring him to take up the measures and an already-passed House bill expanding background checks. McConnell called the moves “stunts” and “theatrics” that were just “efforts to intimidate.” 

McConnell would not say what proposals should be considered, even as measures that would expand background checks and entice states to create “red-flag” laws, which seek to bar guns from those who may cause harm to themselves or others, continue to be debated and discussed on Capitol Hill. 

McCarthy said there is an appetite to pass something when it comes to guns and pointed to other measures the president has approved, including a federal ban on bump stocks and signing a bill boosting reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

But for now, gun legislation efforts in Congress will remain at a standstill until the White House provides a clear direction to Republicans. 

More: It’s been a month. Here’s what Congress is set to do when they come back to D.C.

More: ‘Congress has a lot of thinking to do’ on gun control after Midland-Odessa shooting

More: Trump reverses again on gun background checks, says he backs them and never told NRA otherwise

At Senate Republicans’ weekly lunch on Tuesday, White House legislative aide Eric Ueland told senators that the administration was working on a proposal, but did not lay out what the administration was on board with, nor the priorities in tackling the issue. 

“We’d like to know where the president is,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said after the lunch. “We would like to have the president provide a line-by-line, ‘this is what I would support’ direction to us, in which case, we’d be able to create a law.” 

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla. said no guidance from the White House was given throughout the lunch. “Everybody is talking about a lot of different things,” he said. “We need to know where the White House is.”

Democrats, meanwhile, say the White House doesn’t appear “there yet” on a deal that could attract bipartisan support but say they believe the president has yet to fully be read in on the talks and what he’s ready to support. 

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who has been talking with the White House frequently about a background check proposal, said he hoped to talk with the president in the next 24 hours about where things stand. 

“They’ve got their own ideas. We’ve got our own ideas,” Murphy said of the negotiations with the administration. “We’re just not there yet. Ideally, I want universal background checks but I’m willing to compromise.” 

Others, though, haven’t shown the same willingness to take up legislation that would not include expanding background checks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Monday that she wasn’t backing down on the issue. 

“We are not taking no for an answer. We are not going away,” she said, adding if McConnell did not take it up, the Senate and Trump “will have hell to pay.”

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