Where do gun reform talks stand in Congress after Biden's address?

Biden called for Congress to pass measures that Republicans staunchly oppose.

June 03, 2022, 2:21 PM

After a rare, prime-time address to the nation, President Joe Biden wouldn't say on Friday if he planned to take the power of the presidency up to Capitol Hill next week, when lawmakers return from recess, to push for gun safety legislation he's calling for after a string of mass shootings across the country.

"My staff is dealing and has been dealing constantly with every member of the House and the Senate who's wanted to talk about guns. It's been a constant interchange. And I've been constantly briefed," Biden told reporters as he was leaving a speech on the May jobs report. "I will do what I can to try to see it so we have some real progress."

In his sobering speech on Thursday, Biden called on Congress to reinstate the 1994 assault weapons ban, but acknowledging that's unlikely to happen, he laid out a wish list of other gun control measures.

"If we can't ban assault weapons then we should raise the age to purchase them from 18 to 21; strengthen background checks; enact safe storage laws and red flag laws; repeal the immunity that protects gun manufacturers from liability; address the mental health crisis," Biden said. "For God's sake, how much more carnage are we willing to accept?"

PHOTO: President Joe Biden delivers remarks from the Cross Hall at the White House, May 20, 2021.
President Joe Biden delivers remarks from the Cross Hall at the White House, May 20, 2021.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images, FILE

The sweeping reforms Biden called for, however, need the support of 10 Republicans to meet the Senate's 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster and allow the bill to advance for a possible final vote.

So, the reality is that Biden won't get everything he's asking for.

"I support the bipartisan efforts that include a small group of Democrats and Republican senators trying to find a way. But my God, the fact that the majority of the Senate Republicans don’t want any of these proposals even to be debated or come up for a vote, I find unconscionable," he said.

"And if Congress fails, I believe this time a majority of the American people won't give up either. I believe the majority of you will act to turn your outrage into making this issue central to your vote," he added.

Here's where talks stand heading into next week:

ABC News Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott spoke with two senators part of the bipartisan group on Friday morning, a Democrat and Republican, who described the discussions as "productive" -- insisting senators have been working from "dawn to dusk" to find common ground. Both senators acknowledged that there was still a lot of work to do and obstacles to overcome.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who has been leading the talks for Democrats, has been providing Biden with updates on the status of the talks, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Negotiators are considering a package much narrower than what the president called for but, for now, includes incentives for states to implement red flag laws, which would temporarily remove guns from the hands of individuals who are considered a danger to themselves or others, expanded background checks, and funding for mental health and school security.

PHOTO: Sen. Chris Murphy, the Senate's staunchest gun control advocate, speaks to activists demanding action on gun control legislation, the wake of the shooting at a Texas elementary school this week, at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., May 26, 2022.
Sen. Chris Murphy, the Senate's staunchest gun control advocate, speaks to activists demanding action on gun control legislation after a gunman's rampage killed 19 children and two teachers in a Texas elementary school this week, at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., May 26, 2022.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Sources said there are not enough Republican votes in the Senate to support universal background checks, stalling the group's progress. Murphy has acknowledged background checks remain a big hurdle in the negotiations, and senators are still working to reach an agreement on expanded background checks or provisions that would cut down on abuse of the system.

The group is working now toward putting language to paper, with one senator adding, that it's "a goal not a guarantee." Sources close to the negotiations hope to know by sometime next week whether they have concepts that are acceptable to the small group of bipartisan senators.

How does this measure up to what Biden called for?

If the bipartisan group in the Senate does reach consensus, whatever they agree on is going to fall short of what Biden called for.

An assault weapons ban, which Biden called for in his speech, is not even being considered.

Biden also asked Congress to raise the minimum age for purchasing an assault weapon from 18 to 21 -- apparent non-starters for the vast majority of Senate Republicans.

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, responding to Biden's address on Fox News' Hannity, argued that Biden "once again chose to double down on hard left divisive politics."

When will the Senate vote on gun reform?

It's still unclear when the Senate will put gun reforms to a vote, as the timing depends largely upon the outcome of the bipartisan negotiations.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer had given negotiators until next week, when the Senate returns from its week-long recess.

PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 18, 2022.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 18, 2022.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

But if negotiators strike a deal, Schumer may allow more time to turn that deal into legislative language and move it through the sometimes-lengthy floor process.

If negotiators do not come to an agreement, Schumer has been clear he'll get every Senator on the record by holding a vote on doomed-to-fail comprehensive gun reform legislation. That vote could happen as early as next week if negotiations fizzle, according to a Democratic aide.

How many votes are needed to pass legislation in the Senate?

Subgroups of bipartisan negotiators have met several times throughout this week over videoconference, and one-on-one conversations have continued throughout the week between senators.

With the agreement needing 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, Democrats must get the support of at least 10 Republicans in the Senate. But some Democrats think that any agreement reached is going to need even broader Republican support if it's going to pass, under the thinking more Republicans will be willing to support the measure if it has the backing of their larger conference.

PHOTO: A congressional staffer wears a rifle-shaped pin at a House Judiciary Committee mark up hearing for the "Protecting Our Kids Act," a legislative package of gun violence prevention measures, on Capitol Hill, June 02, 2022, in Washington.
A congressional staffer wears a rifle-shaped pin during a House Judiciary Committee mark up hearing for H.R. 7910, the "Protecting Our Kids Act" a legislative package of gun violence prevention measures, in the Rayburn House Office Building on June 02, 2022 in Washington.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

"We probably frankly need to get more than 60 votes in order to get this passed and to get Republicans comfortable with the product," Murphy said on MSNBC earlier this week.

Biden, in his Thursday address, slammed GOP opposition in the form of a threatened Senate filibuster as "unconscionable."

What legislation is the House considering?

The House has already passed legislation to expand background checks, but Democratic lawmakers are continuing to act on more measures to strengthen gun safety to put political pressure on the Senate, despite the fact that the legislation won't pass through the upper chamber.

In the House Judiciary Committee Thursday, Democrats pushed through a measure that includes nearly every single measure that the president is asked for -- but every single Republican on that committee voted against it. The debate was bitter in what's likely a show to come, with both sides accusing the other of politicizing the latest slew of mass shootings across the country.

PHOTO: Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) demonstrates assembling his handgun as he speaks remotely during a House Judiciary Committee mark up hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on June 02, 2022 in Washington.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) demonstrates assembling his handgun as he speaks remotely during a House Judiciary Committee mark up hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on June 02, 2022 in Washington. House members of the committee held the emergency hearing to mark up H.R. 7910, the "Protecting Our Kids Act" a legislative package of gun violence prevention measures, in response to a string of mass shootings across the U.S.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The "Protect Our Kids Act: would raise the age limit for purchasing semiautomatic rifles to 21 years old, make it a crime to import or manufacture high-capacity magazines, and further tighten the regulation of unregistered "ghost guns" and "bump stocks," while also incentivizing the safe storage of firearms.

The full House is expected to vote on it next week. It will fail in the SenateABC News' Libby Cathey and Benjamin Siegel contributed to this report.

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