Gun debate state-of-play

There's a lot of talk. There are plenty of proposals. But at the moment, there are no actual plans for Congress to pa...

Posted: Feb 26, 2018 4:00 PM
Updated: Feb 26, 2018 4:00 PM

There's a lot of talk. There are plenty of proposals. But at the moment, there are no actual plans for Congress to pass tighter gun laws.

Could that change? Of course. But as it stands, Republican leadership, which has been intentionally silent on policy proposals since the Florida shooting, is waiting to hear from their respective conferences before moving (or not moving) on anything.

Bottom line: Republican sources with direct knowledge of the current state of play express significant skepticism of anything major happening legislatively. At most, they expect some push for the "Fix NICS" (short for National Instant Criminal Background Check System) bill sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, combined with some type of financial package. Even that, they acknowledge, may be a bridge too far.

The wildcard:

It's President Donald Trump. Period. If he demands legislative action on something specific, beyond his ambiguous 280-character ideas, that would change the calculations of GOP leaders. But keep the proper perspective on this -- it would not, per sources, shift GOP leaders in a way that sets up substantive gun control legislation for consideration. Instead, it will have the effect of forcing them to just do something.

Multiple sources express skepticism that the President will stick with this long enough to force the hands of GOP congressional leaders. But so far, he certainly has.

Other proposals that are out there at the moment:

- A background checks bill sponsored by Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, and Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia. (Aides say this doesn't have 60 votes and has zero chance in the House.)

- A draft proposal by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, to raise the purchase age for long guns. (Aides say this doesn't have 60 votes in the Senate and has zero chance in the House.)

- An assault weapons ban. (Aides say this doesn't have 60 votes in the Senate and has zero chance in the House.)

Read:

Lauren Fox and Ted Barrett's excellent rundown of the (very complicated) electoral and policy dynamics facing this debate in an election year (spoiler: it's not just Republicans who are wary of this policy debate):

What to watch Monday:

Taking the temperature of the rank and file as the return in the House and Senate for votes this evening.

What to expect Monday night:

Florida Sens. Marco Rubio, a Republican, and Bill Nelson, a Democrat, are tentatively planning to call for unanimous consent to move the bipartisan "Fix NICS" bill. Leadership aides tell me to expect this to be blocked. (Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky still have known concerns with the bill.)

Along those lines:

Keep an eye on Democrats, in both the House and Senate, trying to force votes on measures in both chambers. Take these for what they are -- efforts designed to increase pressure on the majority, but with zero chance of actually going anywhere.

What really matters:

Tuesday is the day to keep a close eye on. House Republicans will hold a closed-door conference meeting in the morning. Senate Republicans will hold their policy lunch in the afternoon. What the respective leaders say after those meetings will determine what, if anything, happens next.

Just a reminder:

The House will be out of session by Tuesday afternoon. The Senate already has a series of judicial nominations cued up for consideration throughout the week. The idea that something substantive is happening this week is very unlikely.

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