Trump gets his bipartisan wish: McConnell forms gun-law GOP caucus


In his post-Dayton/El Paso speech yesterday, Donald Trump urged Congress to find some bipartisan ground in dealing with mass shootings. Mitch McConnell granted Trump his wish, or at least provided a start to the process yesterday. A new working group in the Senate Republican caucus will “brainstorm” on potential actions to curb and prevent such events:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Monday that he has asked three GOP committee chairmen to brainstorm potential solutions after President Trump urged bipartisanship in the wake of the weekend’s two mass shootings.

McConnell, in a statement, said he discussed Trump’s speech on Monday with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

“I asked them to reflect on the subjects the president raised within their jurisdictions and encouraged them to engage in bipartisan discussions of potential solutions to help protect our communities without infringing on Americans’ constitutional rights,” McConnell said.

If that sounds like gobbledygook, it might just be. The House has already passed HR8, the Democrats’ major gun-control package that would force any intra-family sales to go through a gun dealer, effectively bar handgun ownership until age 21, and impose a number of other unwieldy regulations on the use and ownership of firearms. Dave Kopel provided a dispassionate analysis of the bill’s flaws in January that is still worth reading, but suffice it to say that nothing in this bill would have prevented either mass shooting incident this weekend.

Nevertheless, Democrats will push hard for the Senate to call a floor vote on HR8 in response to the shootings. Republicans have stalled the bill but have done nothing to address rising concerns over mass shootings, even while Trump has pushed to get some sort of legislation passed for political cover. McConnell’s sudden call for some GOP brainstorming on positive responses might be a belated recognition that Congress needs to take steps that actually address the issues raised — especially mental health and tougher enforcement of crime in schools that could have kept these shooters from buying weapons in the first place.

Or maybe McConnell’s worried that Trump will just start issuing edicts on his own:

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President Donald Trump is exploring ways to use regulatory power and executive action to curb gun violence after a pair of deadly shootings over the weekend — a move driven by his aides’ belief that Congress is incapable of coalescing around consensus legislation in a heated 2020 election cycle. …

The specific moves under consideration this time aren’t yet clear, but Trump could draw from a long menu of potential options. Current 2020 candidates and past presidential hopefuls have proposed using executive action to enforce mandatory background checks for customers of gun sellers who deal beyond a certain annual threshold, increase fines for gun manufacturers who circumvent existing regulations, establish longer cooling-off periods for gun buyers and eliminating loopholes that, in some cases, allow individuals convicted of domestic abuse to purchase firearms. Of course, Trump could also reinstate an Obama-era regulation he undid in February 2017 that was intended to prevent mentally ill Americans from acquiring firearms.

Trump having a pen and phone might be all the motivation McConnell needs to pre-empt the president. Election season’s coming up, after all, and Trump could use a little cross-aisle cred on a hot-button issue. Despite his close relationship with the NRA, Trump has occasionally sidled up to the edge of gun control, and he knows that moving the edge a little bit might gain him something with little or no loss.

Alexander’s inclusion in this group and his pending retirement suggest that this might be a more substantive effort than one would first assume. McConnell and the GOP might be better served by providing Trump something to sign instead of his own EOs — or at least challenging Democrats to put legislative efforts more in line with actual prevention rather than another ride on irrelevant hobby horses.

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