Senate Will Not Vote On Gun Measures Next Week

Updated at 2:42 p.m. ET

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.

McConnell’s comments follow a day of confusion on Capitol Hill over guns as Republicans tried 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.

Republicans say they all agree that something needs to be done to curb gun violence, but there is little, if any, consensus on the best way to do that while still maintaining gun rights. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., told reporters Thursday that he is not inclined to support any of the many gun-related bills that have been floated in recent days.

“I’m not inclined to do anything right now except to see what comes up,” Shelby said. “We all are interested in our children being safe in schools; we’re all interested in the communities being safe. It’s how do we get there?”

Trump often acknowledges that it’s hard to pass any legislation in Congress, let alone laws to curb gun rights. But many lawmakers, including some Republicans, say Trump’s own statements make the already difficult task of passing gun legislation even harder.

The meeting concluded with Trump asking lawmakers to go back and talk about the extensive list of proposals floated at the meeting, and without a White House endorsement of any specific plan.

Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Ryan Costello told NPR’s Morning Edition that he worries that kind of broad directive makes it harder for Congress to focus its attention on specific legislation that could pass and eventually become law.

“There’s still an element of unpredictability on what the White House is willing to lean on from a gun safety reform measure,” Costello said. “There was a bit of contradiction in what he said.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, one of the leading lawmakers working on a proposal to update the criminal background check system, shared similar concerns Wednesday after the meeting adjourned. Cornyn told reporters that it is his experience that passing these measures is harder than it sounds.

“I think everybody is trying to absorb what we just heard,” Cornyn said. “He’s a unique president and I think if he was focused on a specific piece of legislation rather than a grab bag of ideas then I think he could have a lot of influence, but right now we don’t have that.”

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