Gun control in Congress state of play: Familiar obstacles arise

Republican leaders in both chambers of Congress appear very wary of entering into a gun debate.The House finis...

Posted: Feb 27, 2018 3:21 PM
Updated: Feb 27, 2018 3:21 PM

Republican leaders in both chambers of Congress appear very wary of entering into a gun debate.

The House finishes work for the week this afternoon. The Senate GOP's fast track effort to move a narrow, but bipartisan background check compliance bill was blocked Monday night, and the balance of the chamber's week is scheduled to be spent on nomination votes.

Senate lawmakers in both parties are all over the map on what they want (or don't want) to do.

Bottom line: If the first day back on Capitol Hill for lawmakers since the Parkland shooting was any indication, this time is not, in fact, different when it comes to the gun debate -- at least so far.

What is the President saying on guns?

The thing that scrambles the current trajectory on the Hill (read: not going anywhere fast) is the President. It doesn't guarantee something will happen, but even the most skeptical of Republican aides and lawmakers have been surprised to the degree President Donald Trump has stuck with this issue so far.

"If he demands something specific, we probably have to give it a shot," one senior GOP aide said. But there's a key caveat in there -- "something specific." Lawmakers and aides don't really have a real sense what the President actually wants. That needs to change before proposals can advance.

Keep an eye on this

The Senate GOP conference closed door lunch Tuesday is where Republicans will discuss their next steps on the gun issue -- whether they want to pursue something more expansive, either on the policy side or just the debate side. What lawmakers say coming out of that will likely determine the course of the debate in the chamber.

Also keep an eye on: Students who survived the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were on the Hill on Monday meeting with lawmakers. They are scheduled to do the same Tuesday.

To be clear: Monday's lack of substantive movement wasn't a shock. GOP sources had been telegraphing this to us throughout the last five or six days. But the tone of rank-and-file lawmakers back in the Capitol was hardly that of a group ready to engage in an expansive, impassioned and divisive debate.

CNN asked one Democratic senator what specifically he thought would happen on guns and he just shrugged. When asked if he thought anything would happen on guns, he responded by slowly started shaking his head "no."

The parameters

To get a good sense of why things are already bogged down, you have to take a look at where the lawmakers actually stand.

There's a group of Republicans who would prefer nothing gun related be considered. On the other side of the spectrum, you've got House lawmakers who have already introduced and assault style weapons ban (it has no chance of passing either chamber).

Democrats want an expansive debate on gun issues -- from universal background checks and potentially more.

Sen. Chuck Schumer said on Monday passing only the Fix NICS background checks bill -- a bill Schumer co-sponsors -- an "abject failure and dereliction of duty."

Republicans, to the extent there is a desire to move something, want narrow and limited.

Or, as Sen. John Cornyn, the co-author of the Fix NICS bill, put it: "I'm for doing what's achievable."

What doesn't clearly exist at the moment is some kind of clear middle ground beyond the Fix NICS bill that was blocked (but has the support to pass the Senate) Monday night.

Flagging: CNN's Deirdre Walsh picked up last night that the House Freedom Caucus has due process issues with the Fix NICS bill. Even if that does find a way through the Senate, without the concealed-carry reciprocity provision, it doesn't currently have a clear path in the House Republican conference.

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