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Gun control legislation stalls as congressional leaders trade barbs

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., speaks Tuesday during a recess in a markup hearing on a series of bills, including some to reduce gun violence in Washington.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., speaks Tuesday during a recess in a markup hearing on a series of bills, including some to reduce gun violence in Washington.

WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that Democrats are engaging in “theatrics” over gun control legislation, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned that “people are dying” because the Senate leader refuses to act.

After a summer of devastating mass shootings, Congress appears no closer to approving legislation to curb gun violence as President Donald Trump wavers on what kind of bill he wants the lawmakers to send for his signature.

“Lives are at stake,” Pelosi told reporters, visibly shaken by questions asking if the House could have done more.

“Don’t ask me what we haven’t done. We have done it,” Pelosi said. “If you are annoyed with my impatience it’s because people are dying because Senator McConnell hasn’t acted. Why don’t you go ask him if he has any regrets for all the people who died because he hasn’t acted?”

McConnell refuses to allow a vote on a House-passed bill to expand background checks for gun purchases because he says it’s not clear the Senate would be able to pass the legislation or that Trump would sign it into law.

For Democratic leaders, who held a press conference Monday pushing action on guns, “It’s all about trying to scare people,” McConnell said.

Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, took a similar hard line after a meeting of GOP leaders Tuesday at the White House. Trump wants to work with Congress “to solve problems,” Scalise said, while Democrats appear intent on being “more aggressive in taking away people’s guns.”

Scalise was unimpressed by polls showing more than 90% support for stronger background checks, saying the House-passed bill “just makes it harder for law-abiding citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights, and we’re not going there.”

Still, the White House meeting reflected increased pressure for Congress to act following the spate of mass shootings that killed dozens of people.

The White House’s legislative director met privately with Republican senators Tuesday to discuss ideas the administration is considering, including so-called red-flag legislation to allow officials to take away guns from people believed to be dangers to themselves or others and quicker imposition of the death penalty for mass shooters.

McConnell said the summer’s mass shootings “deserve a response.” But he’s waiting on the White House for next steps and only wants to consider legislation Trump would sign into law. The White House had previously warned it would veto the House background checks bill.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said the meeting with GOP congressional leaders lasted well over an hour and covered a range of issues, not just guns. He declined to say whether or when Trump will release a plan.

But some GOP senators say inaction is not an option and they are eager for Trump to take the lead.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who has championed another bill that would expand background checks, told reporters, “It’s time to act now.”

Toomey has had several discussions with the president in recent weeks, but said he still is “not sure” if Trump is rethinking his past opposition to the bill.

Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, a conservative who is often considered a voice of the caucus, emerged from Tuesday’s lunch saying, “Many of us feel like doing nothing is not a satisfactory answer.”

McConnell met Tuesday with a bipartisan group of U.S. mayors, including some from cities where mass shootings occurred. The mayors are urging approval of the House bill.

The bill, approved in February, would expand background checks to cover private sales such as one that allowed a Texas shooting suspect to purchase his weapon before killing seven people last month.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors is focusing on background checks as a first step to stem gun violence. A letter signed by 278 mayors from both parties urged Congress to act on the House bill.

On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee was considering other gun bills, including a red-flag law and a ban on large-capacity magazines.

But Pelosi has privately told House Democrats the House has done its job, and for now Democrats need to put pressure on McConnell to act.

The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, said McConnell should quit with the words and “put the bill on the floor” for a vote.

“Shame on him,” Schumer said. “There are people who died. Shame on him.”

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