Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on Sunday offered Donald Trump a rare and highly symbolic bipartisan win – if he can somehow force Republicans in the Senate to enact gun control legislation containing background check measures passed by the House this year.
The House speaker and Senate minority leader said they would both join the president at the White House “for a historic signing ceremony at the Rose Garden”, if he can get the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, to act.
That remains highly unlikely: close ties between Republican leaders and the gun rights lobby have led to legislative stasis on gun control despite numerous mass shootings across America.
Pelosi and Schumer said in a statement they spoke to Trump on Sunday.
“We made it clear,” they said, “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.”
The House passed gun control legislation in February. The Senate has not taken it up.
In a statement, the White House said “the conversation was cordial” but added that “the president made no commitments” on the House bill.
Elsewhere, Beto O’Rourke continued to beat a louder drum.
I think what’s truly awful is a 17-month-old baby shot in the face with an AR-15, as happened in Odessa
On Sunday he told NBC’s Meet the Press criticism of his tactics “just shows you how screwed up the priorities in Washington DC are”.
In early August, in O’Rourke’s home town, El Paso, a gunman killed 22 people at a Walmart. Less than a day later, nine people were killed in Dayton, Ohio. On 31 August, seven people were killed in Odessa, Texas.
“I think what’s truly awful is a 17-month-old baby shot in the face with an AR-15, as happened in Odessa,” O’Rourke said.
“What’s truly awful is 22 people killed in a Walmart the Saturday before school starts that next Monday, buying their school supplies, innocent of any crime or any threat to this country, in fact, living in one of the safest cities in America, El Paso, Texas, hunted down by their ethnicity with a weapon that was designed for use on a battlefield.”
He continued: “I refuse to even acknowledge the politics or the polling or the fear or the NRA, that has purchased the complicity and silence of members of Congress. And this weak response to a real tragedy in America, 40,000 gun deaths a year, we’ve got to do something about it. And I’m proposing that we do something about it.”
A buyback, he said, would not violate the second amendment and the right to bear arms, as it would be “something that we’re able to do through the commerce clause … this is constitutionally sound”.
He went on, in familiar fashion, to cite support from Republican AR-15 owners he said he had spoken to out on the campaign trail.
It does alarm a lot of us when we hear Beto O’Rourke saying, yes, they’re just going to come and take our guns
“I think there’s support beyond the Democratic party,” O’Rourke said, “to include Republicans and independents, gun owners and non-gun owners alike, to do the right thing”.
There is not uniform support within the Democratic party. On CNN’s State of the Union, presidential contender Pete Buttigieg was asked if O’Rourke was playing into the hands of the NRA.
“Yes,” he said, adding that polling showed the US public wants universal background checks on gun sales, red flag laws designed to take guns from individuals deemed unfit to have them, and bans on the sale of high-capacity magazines and the sale of new assault weapons.
“This is a golden moment to finally do something,” the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, insisted, “because we have been arguing about this for as long as I have been alive. When even this president and even Mitch McConnell are at least pretending to be open to reforms, we know that we have a moment on our hands. Let’s make the most of it and get these things done.”
Whether McConnell will really back legislative action is, of course, a doleful question indeed. On Sunday the Kentucky senator Rand Paul indicated the strength of the Republican roadblock.
“I think that part of the problem,” he told CNN, “is cultural and losing a sense of right and wrong.”
He went on to say he advocated action, but with a focus on mental health.
“I think we should look at each of these killings and say, what went wrong? And I think the consistent theme here is, typically, not always, but white teenage boys in their middle teenage years to early 20s … almost every one of them is sending off signals.”
Asked if he would support a “red flag law” or background checks, Paul said: “We don’t know yet what’s coming forward. I can tell you that it’ll have to be consistent with the constitution.”
He added: “There has to be due process. You have to be allowed a lawyer, because the danger is, they could just say, ‘Oh, anybody that takes antidepressants can’t have a gun, or anybody who’s ever been to a psychiatrist can’t have a gun.’ And so there is a danger of going too far, where we pre-emptively just are out there taking everyone’s guns.
“And I am alarmed and it does alarm a lot of us when we hear Beto O’Rourke up saying, yes, they’re just going to come and knock the door down and take our guns.
“That scares the heck out of a lot of Republicans and a lot of gun owners.”