Schumer and Pelosi, Talking to Trump on Guns, Try to Sweeten the Deal

WASHINGTON — The top two Democrats in Congress, seeking to ramp up pressure on Republicans to pass legislation extending background checks to all gun buyers, told President Trump on Sunday that they would join him at the White House for a “historic signing ceremony at the Rose Garden” if he agreed to the measure.

The offer, made by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, during an 11-minute phone conversation with Mr. Trump, comes as the president is considering a package of measures to respond to the mass shootings that have terrorized the nation in recent months. The three spoke only about gun legislation, according to aides.

Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, said in a statement that the conversation was cordial but that Mr. Trump “made no commitments” on a House-passed background checks bill that Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer are urging him to support.

Mr. Trump “instead indicated his interest in working to find a bipartisan legislative solution on appropriate responses to the issue of mass gun violence,” Mr. Deere said.

Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer want Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, to take up the bill, but the senator has refused to do so without knowing whether the president would sign it.

The Democratic leaders’ offer to the president was a bit of public posturing; they know that it is unlikely that Mr. Trump will embrace the House bill, which is strongly opposed by the National Rifle Association, the nation’s largest gun lobbying group and a major backer of the president. Polls show that roughly 90 percent of Americans favor extending background checks, and Democrats believe gun safety is a winning issue for them with voters, but Mr. Trump has gone back and forth on the issue.

“This morning, we made it clear to the president that any proposal he endorses that does not include the House-passed universal background checks legislation will not get the job done, as dangerous loopholes will still exist and people who shouldn’t have guns will still have access,” their statement said, adding, “We know that to save as many lives as possible, the Senate must pass this bill and the president must sign it.”

Their pressure continued a campaign on an issue that has dominated the political debate in Washington and on the Democratic presidential campaign trail since a string of mass shootings over the summer.

At last week’s Democratic presidential debate, former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, who has proposed a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons, declared, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”

The comment quickly went viral, playing into the hands of Republicans who fight gun bills by warning that Democrats will violate Americans’ Second Amendment rights. It also turned into a headache for Democrats on Capitol Hill, who are trying to propose what they often describe as “reasonable” gun legislation and are single-mindedly focused on forcing Republicans to take up the background checks bill, having decided to drop a push for an assault weapons ban.

“We know background checks work,” Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island and a member of leadership, said Sunday on “Fox News Sunday,” adding: “The American people are demanding that we do something. It is no longer safe to be in synagogues and churches and shopping malls and schools.”

After back-to-back mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Tex., in early August, the White House initiated bipartisan talks with senators to determine what, if any, gun bills they might work on together. Aides to Mr. Trump presented the president with his options last week, but the White House has not said precisely what Mr. Trump is considering.

The talks have included discussion of the so-called Manchin-Toomey bill, a bipartisan Senate measure named for its chief sponsors, Senators Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, and Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania. That bill is not as far-reaching as the House measure; it would extend background checks only for commercial sales, not for private sales, and includes some exemptions for friends and family members.

A White House official, speaking anonymously to discuss internal deliberations, said on Sunday that the president had instructed his advisers to continue to work to find a range of policies that would go after illegal gun sales while protecting the Second Amendment, and expand the role of mental health professionals.

Senators participating in the talks say they also have included consideration of “red flag” legislation, which would make it easier for law enforcement to take guns from people deemed dangerous by a judge. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, is working on such a bill in the Senate.

In arguing for the background checks bill, Mr. Schumer and Ms. Pelosi said people subject to such orders might still be able to purchase firearms if the background checks system is not expanded. They vowed in their statement to “accelerate a relentless drumbeat of action to force Senator McConnell to pass our background checks bills.”

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