Befuddled By Trump, Senate Will Not Vote On Gun Measures Next Week : NPR

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President Trump speaks, watched by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, during a bipartisan meeting with members of Congress on school and community safety at the White House on Wednesday.

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

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Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump speaks, watched by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, during a bipartisan meeting with members of Congress on school and community safety at the White House on Wednesday.

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Updated at 3:05 a.m. ET Friday

Plans for a speedy Senate vote on gun legislation crumbled Thursday as Senate leaders announced plans to move on to long-planned banking legislation, while congressional Republicans struggle to make sense of President Trump’s wishes on guns.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Thursday that the Senate will move on to the banking bill after voting on several nominations this week. McConnell said he hopes to vote on changes to the background check system for most gun purchases but did not provide a timeline or any further details.

“We’d love to do that at some point,” McConnell said. “I’m hoping there is a way forward.”

The lack of commitment is the surest sign yet that Congress does not plan to quickly address gun access, despite pressure from the White House and survivors of last month’s deadly shooting at a Florida high school.

There is no plan for any action on gun legislation ahead of the two-week Easter recess at the end of March. The Senate will next take up Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo’s bipartisan legislation to ease bank regulations. The Senate also plans to vote this month on Ohio GOP Sen. Rob Portman’s legislation to combat sex trafficking, and Congress must pass a sweeping spending package by March 23.

There is no room in the agenda for guns, unless senators reach agreement on legislation that could move through the Senate via an expedited process known as unanimous consent. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., who is opposed to any new restrictions on gun rights, said he did not believe that kind of consensus was within reach. “Look, we’ve got a lot of disagreement on the Republican side, and I would be surprised if something moved anytime soon,” he said.

Widespread confusion

The sharp departure was the result of widespread confusion on Capitol Hill over guns. Republicans spent the day Thursday struggling to respond to a set of vague instructions Trump laid out during a televised meeting at the White House.

That meeting followed a familiar pattern for many lawmakers who are trying to write and pass legislation that can meet Trump’s shifting approval. Even many Republicans responded to the White House meeting with confusion and frustration over the lack of clear guidance from the president.

Over the course of the hourlong broadcast Trump seemed to embrace plans to expand background checks and increase age limits for purchasing long gun rifles, positions generally anathema to congressional Republicans. He also suggested pre-emptively taking guns away from potentially dangerous people, a policy that might draw significant legal challenges.

“I don’t know, you saw it, right? It was wild,” said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, a Republican. “I think the president is going to have to narrow his list of what he’d like to see addressed and figure out what’s realistic.”

The disconnect between Trump and congressional Republicans on core philosophical issues on display this week, coupled with the lingering partisan anger between the two parties following the failed immigration talks, is quickly lowering already dim expectations that 2018 will result in much legislative output.

Adding to the confusion, however, Trump and Vice President Pence met Thursday with Chris Cox, the executive director of the National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm. The president tweeted that it was a “Good (Great) meeting …” and Cox said in a tweet after the meeting that “POTUS & VPOTUS support he Second Amendment, support strong due process and don’t want gun control.”

The only must-pass measure on the agenda is the spending bill still being drafted to finalize the appropriations process for the year that, once passed, will free up lawmakers to focus their efforts on what is quickly overtaking Capitol Hill: the battle for control of Congress in the midterm elections.

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