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Trump’s gun control embrace sets off scramble in Congress

The flurry of action suggests President Donald Trump’s wild-card support Wednesday for proposals to expand background checks and raise the age limit for certain rifle purchases has caused plenty of political ripples. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Senators on both sides of the aisle unveiled proposals, though it’s unclear what might gain traction.

Updated

President Donald Trump’s unexpected openness to expansive gun control measures set off a scramble in the Senate Thursday, with lawmakers in both parties laying out a raft of competing proposals and jockeying for position.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) outlined his caucus’ three top priorities in the gun control debate — expanded background checks, judicial orders that would temporarily let guns be taken from dangerous individuals, and at least a vote on banning assault weapons — as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) pitched his own package of gun and school safety plans.

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Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) released a new bill banning “bump stocks,” even as other Republicans indicated they would prefer to wait for the Trump administration’s regulatory crackdown on the devices that boost the rate of fire of semi-automatic weapons.

The flurry of action suggests Trump’s wild-card support Wednesday for proposals to expand background checks and raise the age limit for certain rifle purchases has caused plenty of political ripples — if not yet a wave big enough to unite lawmakers behind a single approach.

“The president started on the right foot, but we must work together to get it done,” Schumer told reporters Thursday as he announced Democrats’ gun policy priorities. “Words alone will not prevent the next mass shooting. One public meeting will not close background check loopholes.”

With few Republicans quickly embracing Trump’s support for expanded background checks for gun buyers, one of that effort’s top sponsors urged him to keep pressing the issue.

“This is about the president,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told reporters. “He’s the only person who can get this out.”

Manchin and his partner on the background-checks bill, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), will have more time to twist arms next week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has teed up floor debate on bipartisan legislation easing some regulatory requirements under the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. Senators in both parties predicted that gun-related amendments may be offered to that bill as the broader debate continues, with Manchin predicting that guns would remain in “the hot seat.”

Rubio had previously garnered a positive response in his home state, where the Valentine’s Day killing of 17 students and faculty members has sparked a potentially major shift in gun politics. But after indicating that he would support raising the required age for purchases of AR-15-style rifles, which have been used in multiple mass shootings, Rubio shied away from the idea, which splits his fellow Senate Republicans.

Rubio said in prepared remarks on the Senate floor that while he would “continue to explore additional reforms” on rifle-buyer age limits and firearm magazine capacity, those proposals “will need to be crafted in a way that actually contributes to greater public safety, while also not unnecessarily or unfairly infringing on” gun owners’ Second Amendment rights.”

Instead, he called for creating “gun violence restraining orders” that would allow a court to intervene while respecting due process as well as reauthorizing school safety grants. Rubio also previewed a forthcoming proposal from senators in both parties that would mandate FBI notification to states when individuals barred from buying guns attempt to purchase them.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley also announced Thursday that he will hold an oversight hearing on March 14 examining the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Grassley has already sought briefings from the FBI and social media companies about advance notice that law enforcement officials received — but failed to act on — concerning the threat posed by Florida perpetrator Nikolas Cruz.

“The great tragedy of the Parkland shooting is that it was preventable,” Grassley told committee members. “The FBI and local law enforcement failed to act on credible tips that should have neutralized the killer and gotten him help.”

Grassley also offered strong support for a narrow, bipartisan bill designed to improve the existing background-check system. Republican leaders also back the measure, which would push federal agencies and states to submit information on individuals’ criminal histories to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Democrats — as well as Trump — have said the “Fix NICS” bill doesn’t go far enough. But it’s not clear most Republican lawmakers are willing to embrace anything else, even as the bill faces due-process objections from some on the GOP side of the aisle.

Grassley also declined to immediately support legislation banning bump stocks. The Iowan noted the administration is moving ahead with regulatory limits on bump stocks, adding, “If that effort proves unsuccessful, I’m also willing to consider a legislative ban.”

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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