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Democrats press Trump to intervene on background check bill

Matthew Daly
Associated Press

Washington – Congressional Democrats are pressing President Donald Trump to intervene with Senate Republicans and demand passage of a bipartisan bill to expand background checks for gun purchases.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump’s “urgent, personal intervention is needed to stem the endless massacres of our fellow Americans by gunfire.”

They implored Trump in a letter released Monday to “seize this moment when your leadership and influence over Republicans in Congress on the issue of guns is so critical.” Trump must not “squander” the opportunity for meaningful action on gun violence “by acceding to NRA-backed proposals or other weak ideas that will do nothing to stop the continuing, horrific spread of gun violence,” the Democrats said.

In this Aug. 7, 2019, file photo, demonstrators gather to protest after a mass shooting that occurred in Dayton, Ohio.

The letter came as Congress returned to the Capitol from a six-week break, with gun violence legislation at the top of the agenda. A group of U.S. mayors, meanwhile, urged lawmakers to approve the House-passed background checks bill, which would expand background checks to cover private sales such as one that allowed a suspected west Texas gunman to purchase his weapon before killing seven people last month.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear that he won’t take action on guns without Trump’s commitment to sign a bill into law.

But Trump has flip-flopped on guns, first suggesting he’d be open to background checks legislation or other measures to try to stem gun violence, only to backtrack after speaking to the National Rifle Association and others in the gun lobby. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, wants to avoid a politically uncomfortable situation of forcing Republicans to vote on gun-control bills only to have Trump reject them.

Dayton, Ohio, Mayor Nan Whaley, who has emerged as a leading gun-control advocate following a mass shooting that killed nine people in her city last month, said members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors are focusing on background checks as a first step to stem gun violence. A letter signed by 278 mayors from both parties urges Congress to act on the House-passed bill.

“We want an up-or-down vote on the House bill,” Whaley said in an interview before she and other mayors met with White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and other officials Monday.

Whaley, a Democrat, called prevention of gun violence an issue that crosses party lines.

“We want some Republicans to do the right thing here and (vote for) something that 90 percent of the American people say makes the most sense” to prevent gun violence, she said.

Bryan Barnett, the mayor of the Rochester Hills, Michigan, and president of the mayors’ conference, said he is optimistic Congress will act. Barnett, a Republican, said background checks have strong support in his Republican-leaning city.

“As I drop my kids off at school in a Republican region and in a line of min-vans and SUVs … nine of out of 10 of those folks don’t have a problem with background checks,” he said. “It’s not something that curtails their ability to own and operate a gun freely. It’s something they understand that we have to do as Americans because we are part of a greater society.”

McConnell has not ruled out action on gun control, but said he is waiting for Trump to state what he will sign into law before putting the issue on the Senate floor.

Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of GOP leadership, also cited Trump as key to Senate action on gun control.

“The president needs to step up here and set some guidelines for what he would do,” Blunt said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Senators from both parties have been meeting privately among themselves and with the White House on possible areas of agreement.

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who is working with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin on a bill to expand background checks, said Trump “has a real interest in doing something in this area.” Still, Toomey said,” It’s hard to say how this will turn out.”

Democrats said the clock is ticking. At least 51 Americans were killed in mass shootings in August alone, Pelosi and Schumer said, and many others were killed “in the daily tragedy of gun violence in our communities.”

“The time for you to act is now,” they told Trump, “before more lives are lost.”