Modest gun measure set to hitch a ride on spending package

- Maret 21, 2018

Congressional leaders — at the urging of President Donald Trump — have reached a tentative deal to pass modest gun legislation as part of a broader spending package, three sources familiar with the talks told POLITICO Wednesday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) endorsed the inclusion of narrow, bipartisan legislation aimed at improving records and information-sharing in the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System — even though gun control advocates say the provision barely moves the needle on firearms restrictions.

In return, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are discussing language allowing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence. A law banning gun control advocacy by the CDC, known as the Dickey Amendment, has long had a chilling effect on such research.

The details are still being hashed out, but the tentative accord is one of the final loose ends leaders must tie up in spending negotiations.

“I can’t imagine Sen. Schumer saying no but until the ink is dry I’m not declaring victory,” said one of the provision's main authors, No. 2 Senate Republican John Cornyn.

The government runs out of money at midnight on Friday. And while leadership sources say the deal is essentially finalized, 218 votes still need to be found in the House, and any one senator can hold up passage at least temporarily in the upper chamber.

The so-called FIX NICS bill would increase penalties on agencies that do not report sensitive information to the FBI’s national background checks system that bars criminals as well as people with severe mental health conditions from purchasing a firearm. Cornyn of Texas and Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy introduced the bill after 26 churchgoers were killed last year.

The gunman had been discharged from the Air Force for domestic violence and should have been added to the criminal background check system but was not.

Trump asked Congress to pass the bill, which is backed by the National Rifle Association, in the wake of the Parkland high school shooting in Florida. Republicans urged their Democratic colleagues to allow the text into the spending package — even though Democrats argue it’s unlikely to do much to curb mass shootings.

Democrats have called for expanding background checks to include sales online and at gun shows, and many want to reinstate the ban on assault rifles.

Indeed, the gun issue remained a key holdup in the talks as Schumer pushed for more aggressive gun restrictions, according a source familiar with the talks. Murphy personally made the case to Democratic leadership to accept the compromise, even if it didn’t go as far as they wanted, the person said.

House conservatives are already balking. Members of the Freedom Caucus say GOP leaders promised them that the provision would only be considered alongside a gun-rights friendly measure to honor concealed carry permits across state lines.

"What we were told by our leadership is directly opposite what is happening today," Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) complained Wednesday.

Jordan said House leaders assured them they wouldn't decouple the two proposals, though others said they always expected leadership to reverse themselves.

"We all knew this was going to happen," said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) "I don’t think you’ll find many Second Amendment conservatives who are clutching their pearls at this particular issue."


 

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