Schumer, Pelosi demand McConnell cancel August recess in wake of mass shootings

Senate must pass gun control measures "immediately," Democrats say.

August 5, 2019, 6:53 PM

The top Democrats in Congress on Monday called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to cancel the Senate's August recess and return to work "immediately" to vote on gun background check legislation in the wake of two deadly mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.

The House passed two background check bills in February but the Senate has, so far, failed to act.

One of the bills would establish new background check requirements for firearm transfers between private parties. The other bill would extend the review period for the FBI to complete its background checks for gun purchases from three days to 10 days.

"In February, the new Democratic House Majority promptly did its duty and passed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, which is supported by more than 90 percent of the American people and proven to save lives. However, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has called himself the 'grim reaper' and refuses to act on this bipartisan legislation. It is incumbent upon the Senate to come back into session to pass this legislation immediately," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said in a joint statement Monday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer joins Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as she signs the budget package at the Capitol in Washington, Aug. 1, 2019.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

McConnell sets the Senate floor schedule and has not called the two bills up for consideration. The Kentucky Republican, who injured his shoulder over the weekend, said in a Monday statement that he had spoken with several committee chairs and "encouraged them to engage in bipartisan discussions of potential solutions to help protect our communities without infringing on Americans' constitutional rights." His statement made no mention of bringing senators back to Washington.

President Donald Trump has threatened to veto both measures. In remarks Monday morning addressing the shootings, Trump condemned "white supremacy" and cited the threat of "racist hate."

"In one voice our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy," Trump said.

But Trump did not propose any sort of broad gun control measures in his remarks, and instead called for stronger action to address mental illness, video games and violence in the media.

"President Trump is literally making up causes of gun violence in America. America does not have more mental illness than other developed nations. We don't have more violent video games. What we have is a hate machinery that President Trump feeds on an almost daily basis, and a country awash in guns and weak laws that allow young men contemplating violence to easily get their hands on a deadly weapon," Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said in a statement Monday.

In a members-only conference call Monday morning, Democrats in the House, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., supported returning to Washington to take additional gun control action, including a potential assault weapons ban, according to sources on the call. Pelosi said in a statement that the House "stands ready" to take up any legislation passed by the Senate in response to the shootings.

"The House has passed legislation that will help keep our communities safe from gun violence," Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., chairman of the House Democrats' Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, told ABC News. "There's nothing stopping them except Mitch McConnell at this point."

Congress has not passed any sweeping gun reform legislation since the 1990s. Lawmakers have tried and failed numerous times, notably after the 2012 shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 school children were killed by a gunman.

While Congress has failed to reach a bipartisan consensus on broad gun control legislation and the House-passed background check bills wait in the Senate, some senators are working on other legislation to address the gun violence epidemic.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a top Trump ally, announced in a statement on Monday that he and Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut had reached an agreement on a federal grant program that would assist states in implementing the "Red Flag" law.

The state law typically permits police or family members to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves.

Graham said he spoke to Trump on Monday morning and said he seemed "very supportive" of the idea.

President Donald Trump makes remarks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Aug. 5, 2019, in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Trump also spoke to another bipartisan duo on Monday -- Sens. Pat Toomey, R- Penn., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., about a separate piece of legislation that would expand background checks for unlicensed gun show dealers and online sales.

"This morning, we both separately discussed with President Trump our support for passing our bipartisan legislation to strengthen background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, the dangerously mentally ill, and terrorists while respecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners and all Americans. The president showed a willingness to work with us on the issue of strengthening background checks," Manchin said in a statement.

Toomey said in a tweet that it is "time for Congress to act."

While he urged the Senate to take up the House-passed proposals, Thompson suggested that the House could take up additional "red flag" legislation, or proposals to limit magazine capacity -- noting that the suspected shooter in Dayton had several high-capacity magazines.

Democrats also suggested that public support for additional legislation could help pressure Congress to act.

"It took less than three hours for the president to back off his call for stronger background check legislation. When he can't talk about guns when he talks about gun violence, it shows the president remains prisoner to the gun lobby and the NRA," Schumer and Pelosi said in their statement. "The public must weigh in and demand passage of this legislation for the safety of our children."