McConnell’s gamble on gun safety – POLITICO

“His problem was, ‘We need to be engaged in conversations. Usually we are not. This time we are,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who is undecided on the gun deal and may oppose it. “In this conversation, it seems to revolve more around this: ‘What do we both agree on? OK, let’s get to that. It doesn’t offend me. In fact, I think it helps in the long run.

McConnell has voted with less than half of his conference members on other bipartisan bills, like China’s competitiveness legislation and the Biden White House-backed infrastructure package last year. His Republican allies say he has his eye on long-term goals – trying to help preserve the legislative filibuster, giving his own party cross-cutting achievements and ensuring his message remains focused on the upcoming election of mid-term.

But of all the topics on which McConnell has given ground, guns are by far the most controversial. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) views McConnell’s endorsement of the framework as an endorsement “with a reservation.”

“He says [if] it stays in the frame. Well, that’s interesting,” Shelby said. “But that does not engage anyone else. Everyone has to vote, and I would be very skeptical of any of that. Because this could be the first big step, one of the big steps, towards eliminating gun rights.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the party’s chief gun negotiator and former whip, said Wednesday he aims to have “more than 70” senators vote for any final package. But conservatives in the GOP conference are already questioning parts of the framework as well as the Senate’s preferred quick timeline for passing a bill.

Meanwhile, supporters of the gun safety deal worry that the longer negotiations drag on, the more likely infighting becomes. And many members of McConnell’s management team, including his two senior deputies, senses. John Thune (RS.D.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), do not yet support the plan and say they need to see the text.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), a member of McConnell’s leadership team who raised concerns about the package in a private meeting Tuesday, took a libertarian view of McConnell’s role: He can do whatever he wants. I mean, everyone can do whatever they want. I don’t blame my colleagues.

McConnell also runs a conference where many members of the accord retire, allowing them to ignore the political consequences of certain votes. Of the 10 Republican senators who endorsed the bipartisan framework on Sunday, four will leave after this Congress. No GOP senator reelected this year has yet endorsed the framework.

Senators on both sides of the aisle expect the chamber to move quickly on gun legislation once the text is finalized. Some Republicans believe moving quickly could also be advantageous in preventing the subject from dominating the midterms.

Democrats, meanwhile, are unsure what to make of McConnell’s decision to engage in gun talks. After all, the Republican conference has always resisted gun reforms, and McConnell voted against the 2013 legislation of the senses. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to expand background checks. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), his party’s chief negotiator, described the GOP leader’s green light on gun talks as “very intentional.”

“It was a pleasant surprise,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “There is a political explanation and a human explanation. I don’t know which one is true. Maybe both.”

Still, no one is suggesting McConnell go limp or veer to center. He led Republicans to block Democrats’ electoral reform legislation, voted against the creation of a 9/11-style commission on January 6 despite the support of a handful of its members, and engaged in a months-long confrontation with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer over the debt limit last year.

The next few days will determine how divided the GOP conference is on a gun package, if one actually comes to fruition. Senator Lindsey Graham (RS.C.) said McConnell currently reflects “where a lot of people are: ‘Sounds good, look at the details.’

Graham added that getting a majority of Republicans to support the eventual gun bill is “within the realm of possibility,” even if it’s an uphill battle.

Senate negotiators met Wednesday afternoon to iron out the legislative text of the deal. Before doing so, Cornyn expressed concern about the wording of two of the framework’s key provisions: grants to states to implement so-called red flag laws, which allow for the temporary confiscation of weapons from someone considered as a threat to themselves or others, and expanding gun restrictions for people who have abused their romantic partners.

This latter provision, known as the “escape boyfriend,” has long been a sticking point for the GOP. Additionally, several members of the Republican conference have due process issues related to the Red Flag laws.

And while McConnell supports negotiations, they aren’t exactly the focus of his day-to-day speeches. A day after endorsing the framework, he spoke Wednesday about the safety of federal judges and again hit out at Democrats for rising inflation.

“Three of the most fundamental duties that any government owes its citizens are stable prices, public safety and secure borders,” McConnell said. “Unfortunately for our country, the Democrats have stopped swaying.”

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