Senators have wrapped up their work and left Washington, DC, without reaching a deal on gun violence legislation, disappointing Democrats who had hoped to issue a joint statement with Republicans on a framework.
Democrats say they are “very close” to an agreement with Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the lead Republican negotiator, but Democratic and Republican staff still need to hammer out differences over language, according to Senate negotiators.
Senate sources say that Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.), the lead Democratic negotiator, was “itching” to put out a joint statement with Cornyn before lawmakers left town but that Cornyn declined to sign on to any public statement until there’s an agreement on the language of the core proposals .
“There’s not an agreement until we agree on everything,” Cornyn told reporters Thursday afternoon. “We’ve narrowed the issues considerably.”
Cornyn said the group had hoped to release a joint statement by week’s end but isn’t there yet.
“We were hopeful there might be something we could do today, but we have this remaining issue we need to resolve,” he said.
Sources familiar with the negotiations said Cornyn, a former Texas Supreme Court justice, doesn’t want to sign off on any framework until the language of the core provisions are finalized.
“How outrageous is that?” Cornyn quipped about his insistence on knowing the details of the agreement before endorsing a framework for the legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.) said he wanted a deal by the end of this week and has come under pressure from progressives to force a Senate vote on gun control legislation if Republicans don’t agree to a compromise bill soon.
Schumer received a briefing from Murphy on Thursday afternoon, telling reporters afterwards that the bipartisan group is making good progress and that he hopes to get something from the group soon.
The four core negotiators — Cornyn, Murphy, Sen. Thom Tillis (RN.C.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — are scheduled to hold a virtual meeting to continue the talks Friday afternoon.
They are looking for a deal that can bring along 10 Republican votes to overcome a filibuster in the 50-50 Senate. Every Democrat is expected to vote for the legislation.
The Republicans in the negotiating group also include Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Lindsey Graham (RS.C.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.).
If those four plus Cornyn and Tillis agree to vote “yes,” Democrats would still need to round up four more Republicans to overcome the 60-vote threshold for ending a filibuster.
Senior Democrats briefed on the negotiations say the two sides are “very close” to a deal and expect to see an agreement by sometime next week.
“I think we are very close,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “We have good vibes. I think Schumer did the right thing by focusing on a date to complete the negotiations.”
Schumer said soon after a gunman killed 21 people in Uvalde, Texas, that he would give Republicans only a short amount of time to work out compromised legislation before he would begin to force them on gun control proposals.
Two of the sticking points in the negotiations are whether to mandate requirements for the safe storage of firearms at home and how to define commercial sellers of firearms.
Republicans want to create tax incentives for the sale of safe storage equipment, while Democrats want to also add mandates for safe storage.
Another tricky issue is how to handle people who make a business of selling firearms online but are not required to conduct background checks because they don’t hold federal firearm licenses. Gun control advocates view this as a loophole in the law requiring firearm dealers to conduct background checks.
Murphy said last year’s talks to expand background checks failed because Cornyn “wouldn’t budget enough on sharpening the definition of commercial gun seller.”
Cornyn on Thursday said significant progress has been made since then on classifying people who make a business of selling firearms, noting that he and Murphy have worked on the issue for more than a year.
Another potential landmine in the negotiations is a proposal to encourage states to set up red flag laws to remove firearms from people deemed a danger to the community.
Several Republican senators have already balked at the proposed reform, including Sens. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.).
Marshall on Thursday said he doesn’t “see how any red flag [law] passes” and called it a “poison pill.”
“I don’t think the red flags address the real issue,” he said. “I think it could sure be abused. I think it’s an infringement on the Second Amendment.”
Marshall said he is introducing legislation to repurpose unspent federal coronavirus-relief funding to improve school security.
Daines said he would oppose using taxpayer money to give states incentives to establish red flag laws.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia already have such laws on the books.
Daines said he spoke up about his concerns during a lunch meeting Wednesday and urged colleague to instead focus on school security.
“What hasn’t been talked about a lot is the school resource officer at Uvalde was not at his post. Why are we not talking more about that? Imagine for a moment if you had a couple of Capitol police officers who weren’t at their post and someone came in the Capitol. There would be a lot of discussion about what do we do to keep the security hardened around the Capitol,” he said.
Blumenthal, who has negotiated a red flag law with Graham, however, said members of the bipartisan group should be able to reach agreement on that issue.
“We’re going to keep working on language. I’m enormously encouraged having worked on this for quite a few years,” he said of red flag legislation.
Murphy, the lead Democratic negotiator, declined to say whether he could support a package that doesn’t include incentives for states to set up red flag laws.
“I’m not drawing any lines in the sand at this point,” he said, though he added a red flag law “could have made a difference in Uvalde.”