McConnell: Gun control ‘in a holding pattern’

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined at left by Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Six weeks after a pair of mass shootings killed more than 30 people, Congress remains “in a holding pattern” on gun control as lawmakers await proposals from the White House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

While President Donald Trump has said he would veto a House-passed bill to expand background checks for gun purchases, McConnell said Tuesday he is hopeful there are other gun-related proposals that Congress can approve and Trump can support.

“I still await guidance from the White House as to what (Trump) thinks he’s comfortable signing,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters. “If and when that happens, then we’ll have a real possibility of actually changing the law and hopefully making some progress.”

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said McConnell and Trump were blocking meaningful action on gun violence, adding, “This is the moment for the president to do something different and courageous.”

The New York Democrat said he wonders whether Trump will “rise to the occasion, or will he squander this opportunity as he always has done in the past?”

Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned Trump on Sunday that any proposal on gun control must include the House-passed bill to expand background checks. Pelosi and Schumer spoke with Trump by phone and said they made it clear any proposal that does not include the House legislation “will not get the job done” because dangerous loopholes will be left open.

Schumer said Tuesday he was “not encouraged by what the president said” but remained committed to pushing for stricter gun control measures. Senate Democrats planned to speak for hours on the Senate floor to urge passage of background checks and other measures in the wake of mass shootings in Texas and Ohio last month that left dozens of people dead.

Trump and White House aides have discussed a number of gun control measures with members of Congress, including steps to go after fraudulent buyers, notify state and local law enforcement when a potential buyer fails a background check, issue state-level emergency risk protection orders, boost mental health assistance and speed up executions for those found guilty of committing mass shootings.

Trump hopes to reveal something on gun control to the American public “very soon,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Tuesday. The White House expects the gun proposal later this week or early next week, according to a person familiar with the administration’s thinking.

Attorney General William Barr and White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland met with GOP senators Tuesday to talk about a path forward. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said background checks remained under discussion, but it was not clear whether progress was being made.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said background checks did not come up during a lunch meeting Tuesday between Senate Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., cautioned against overinterpreting the relative silence by the White House. “My guess is they’re still vetting ideas, proposals and kind of putting together their plan,” he said.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who has helped lead a bipartisan push to expand background checks, said he had not spoken to Trump since late last week. Manchin said he considers a proposal he is offering with Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey a starting point for legislative action.

“You can’t water it down because that’s the bedrock,” Manchin said, adding that senators and the White House haven’t agreed on anything yet. “We’re just going to see where it goes,” he said.

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Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Zeke Miller and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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First Trump impeachment hearing for House committee

President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, right, and his lawyer Peter Chavkin, left, arrive to meet behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

As they investigate President Donald Trump, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee will hold their first official hearing in what they are calling an impeachment investigation.

Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s outspoken former campaign manager, is scheduled to appear Tuesday to discuss former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

But it’s unlikely that Democrats will get much new information. A devoted friend and supporter of the president, Lewandowski isn’t expected to elaborate much beyond what he told Mueller’s investigators last year. Mueller himself testified this summer, with no bombshells. Two other witnesses who were subpoenaed alongside Lewandowski — former White House aides Rick Dearborn and Rob Porter — won’t show up at all, on orders from the White House.

The hearing underscores what has been a central dilemma for House Democrats all year — they have promised to investigate Trump, aggressively, and many of their base supporters want them to move quickly to try and remove him from office. But the White House has blocked their oversight requests at most every turn, declining to provide new documents or allow former aides to testify. The Republican Senate is certain to rebuff any House efforts to bring charges against the president. And moderate Democrats in their own caucus have expressed nervousness that the impeachment push could crowd out their other accomplishments.

Still, the Judiciary panel is moving ahead, approving rules for impeachment hearings last week. Among those guidelines is allowing staff to question witnesses, as will happen for the first time with Lewandowski.

Lewandowski was a central figure in Mueller’s report, which said Trump could not be exonerated on obstruction of justice charges. Mueller’s investigators detailed two episodes in which Trump asked Lewandowski to direct then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit Mueller’s investigation. Trump said that if Sessions would not meet with Lewandowski, then Lewandowski should tell Sessions he was fired.

Lewandowski never delivered the message but asked Dearborn — a former Sessions aide — to do it. Dearborn said he was uncomfortable with the request and also declined to deliver it, according to the report.

Porter, a former staff secretary in the White House, took frequent notes during his time there that were detailed throughout the report. He resigned last year after public allegations of domestic violence by his two ex-wives.

In letters to the committee on Monday, the White House said that Dearborn and Porter were “absolutely immune” from testifying. White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote that the Justice Department had advised, and Trump had directed, them not to attend “because of the constitutional immunity that protects senior advisers to the president from compelled congressional testimony.”

In a separate letter, Cipollone said that Lewandowski, who never worked in the White House, should not reveal private conversations with Trump beyond what is in Mueller’s report. He wrote that his conversations with Trump “are protected from disclosure by long-settled principles protecting executive branch confidentiality interests.”

Democrats say the White House’s rationale isn’t legally sound. In a statement, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said the White House’s position is “a shocking and dangerous assertion of executive privilege and absolute immunity.”

He added: “The President would have us believe that he can willfully engage in criminal activity and prevent witnesses from testifying before Congress — even if they did not actually work for him or his administration.”

In an effort to try and pry documents and testimony from the Trump administration, the Judiciary panel has filed two lawsuits — one against former White House counsel Donald McGahn, who also defied a subpoena earlier this year on Trump’s orders. But the lawsuits could take months to resolve and Nadler has said he wants to make a decision by the end of the year on whether to recommend articles of impeachment against Trump.

Nadler, D-N.Y., made his own views clear in an interview Monday with a New York radio station, saying that in his personal opinion “impeachment is imperative” in order to “vindicate the Constitution.”

But he also acknowledged that it won’t be easy, echoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by saying they will have to have greater consensus than they do now in order to vote on impeachment. He said the hearings will decide whether American people get there or not.

“No. 1, you don’t want to tear the country apart,” if the public sentiment isn’t there, Nadler said. “No. 2, you need 218 votes on the House floor.”

One of the main reasons that the votes aren’t there yet is because moderates in the caucus — many of whom are freshmen who handed Democrats the majority in the 2018 election — are worried it will distract from other accomplishments. A group of those freshmen met with Nadler last week to express concerns.

“There’s far too much work left to be done and we are in danger of losing the trust of the American people if we choose partisan warfare over improving the lives of hardworking families,” wrote New York Rep. Max Rose, a Democratic freshman, in a Friday op-ed in the Staten Island Advance newspaper.

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Can Congress keep government running this time?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The good news is that it doesn’t look like a bitterly polarized Washington will stumble into another government shutdown.

But as Democrats controlling the House unveil a stopgap, government-wide spending bill to keep the lights on and pay the troops, there’s scant evidence that power sharing in the Capitol will produce further legislative accomplishments anytime soon.

The measure that is set for a vote this week would keep the government running through Nov. 21 and buy time for action and negotiations on $1.4 trillion in annual appropriations bills. Some items can’t wait and will be included, like accelerated funding for the 2020 census and $20 million to combat Ebola in Africa. President Donald Trump also appears likely to win authority to continue bailout payments to farmers harmed by his aggressive trade policies against China.

Since the temporary spending bill is the only must-do legislation on the immediate horizon, lawmakers are using it as a locomotive to haul other priorities into law. That bundle of provisions, negotiated behind closed doors, offers plenty of evidence of Capitol Hill’s chronic dysfunction.

It’s not just that the Democratic-controlled House and GOP-held Senate can’t agree on big issues like infrastructure, guns and health care. They also can’t agree on lower-tier items that typically pass by wide margins, such as short-term extensions of the federal flood insurance program and the Export-Import Bank, which helps finance export deals important to large manufacturers such as The Boeing Co.

The House and Senate banking committees are responsible for legislation to reauthorize both the Export-Import Bank and the flood insurance program, which is particularly important to the real estate sector in coastal areas, but there’s been no progress.

Meanwhile, a bundle of health care-related provisions, such as Medicaid payment rates for hospitals that serve mainly lower-income communities, is catching a ride on the temporary spending bill, according to a spokesman for House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.

Democrats aren’t trying to use the bill as a way to take on Trump controversies like cutting military base projects to pay for his U.S.-Mexico border wall. But they’re not granting Trump any favors, either, denying provisions as the flexibility to build new border wall segments.

An early draft of the stopgap measure, circulated by Lowey, did not include Trump’s request for maintain funding for the farm bailout, but talks Monday appeared headed toward a bipartisan compromise that would allow the Agriculture Department to keep issuing checks to farmers.

The bailout started last year after China retaliated against Trump’s tariffs on Chinese exports by reducing purchases of U.S. crops. The developments have caused widespread discontent in farm country that’s already beset by lower crop prices and vanishing profits.

The House is slated to pass the stopgap spending measure this week and the Senate is expected to follow in time to meet the Sept. 30 deadline to avert a government shutdown. The effort comes nine months after Trump started a 35-day partial government shutdown when lawmakers rebuffed his border wall demands.

The $1.4 trillion in annual appropriations bills are off to a late and not particularly promising start despite a bipartisan budget and debt deal passed in July. The House has passed 10 of the 12 annual bills, but at spending levels higher than permitted under the budget deal.

The Senate is roiled by battles over Trump’s $5 billion border wall request and his moves to tap military base construction projects to pay for it. Democrats complained that Senate Republicans are giving too much funding to Trump’s cherished wall project at the expense of health and education projects.

Senate Democrats are threatening to filibuster an upcoming vote on a huge, almost $700 billion defense funding bill to protest preliminary funding decisions of Trump’s GOP allies in the Senate.

“Our Democratic colleagues would rather provoke a partisan feud with the president,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “They’d rather have a fight with the president than stick to the agreement that we all made.”

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer responded that Trump’s wall funding plan “is what Democrats oppose. That’s what Leader McConnell calls staging a political fight.”

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House Committee ready for first Trump impeachment vote

ouse Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., prepares for a markup hearing on a series of bills on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The House Judiciary Committee is preparing for its first impeachment-related vote, set to define procedures for upcoming hearings on President Donald Trump even as some moderates in the caucus are urging the panel to slow down.

The vote Thursday, while technical, is an escalation as the Judiciary panel has said it is examining whether to recommend articles of impeachment. It would allow the committee to designate certain hearings as impeachment hearings, empower staff to question witnesses, allow some evidence to remain private and permit the president’s counsel to officially respond to testimony.

As the committee moves forward, some moderate House Democrats — mostly freshmen who handed their party the majority in the 2018 election — are concerned about the committee’s drumbeat on impeachment and the attention that comes with that continued action. Several of the freshmen met with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler on Wednesday and expressed concerns about the path ahead.

“It’s sucking the air out of all the good stuff that we’re doing, so that’s our concern,” said Florida Rep. Donna Shalala, a freshman Democrat who attended the meeting. She said very few constituents in her swing district asked her about impeachment over the August recess.

Rep. Anthony Brindisi, a freshman Democrat from New York who was also at the meeting, said that the people in his district “are calling for action on prescription drug prices, health care, border security and infrastructure — not clamoring for impeachment probes and investigations. Congress should be focused on getting things done that can improve the lives of working people.”

The vote signals that the Judiciary Committee, which is comprised of some of the caucus’ most left-leaning members, is serious about moving forward with an impeachment process. But it’s still very unclear whether that process will ever move beyond the panel’s work, given that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has urged caution. She has told her colleagues that the public still isn’t supportive of taking those steps.

The committee would still have to introduce impeachment articles against Trump and win approval from the House to bring charges against the Republican president. The Republican-led Senate is extremely unlikely to convict him and remove him from office.

Still, the committee has persistently advanced the impeachment issue — partly to bolster two lawsuits against the Trump administration as the White House has repeatedly blocked witness testimony and document production. The lawsuits say the material is needed so the panel can decide whether to recommend articles of impeachment.

Pelosi has said she wants to see what happens in court before making any decisions on impeachment. But she said Monday that she had signed off on the Judiciary vote, saying that “it’s a logical thing for a committee to establish its rules of procedure.”

The committee says the resolution is similar to procedural votes taken at the beginning of the impeachment investigations into Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

“The adoption of these additional procedures is the next step in that process and will help ensure our impeachment hearings are informative to Congress and the public, while providing the president with the ability to respond to evidence presented against him,” Nadler, D-N.Y., said in a statement. “We will not allow Trump’s continued obstruction to stop us from delivering the truth to the American people.”

The resolution that the committee will consider would set parameters for the panel’s impeachment hearings in an attempt to give lawmakers more powers to investigate the president. It would allow committee lawyers to question witnesses for an additional hour — 30 minutes for each side — beyond the five minutes allowed for committee lawmakers. Evidence would be allowed in private session to protect the confidentiality of sensitive materials, and any full committee or subcommittee hearing could be designated by Nadler as part of the committee’s probe into whether to recommend articles of impeachment.

The first hearing under the new impeachment rules would be with Corey Lewandowski on Sept. 17. Lewandowski was frequently mentioned in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which the committee has been investigating. According to Mueller’s report, Trump asked Lewandowski to deliver a message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking him to limit Mueller’s probe.

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Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.

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Abortion, border wall tie up spending bills in Senate

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., arrives for a news conference following a Senate policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Fights over abortion and President Donald Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall have thrown Senate efforts to advance $1.4 trillion worth of agency spending bills into disarray, threatening one of Washington’s few bipartisan accomplishments this year.

A government shutdown remains unlikely, but agencies face weeks or months on autopilot while frozen at this year’s levels if the logjam isn’t broken.

At issue are 12 annual budget bills to fund the day-to-day operations of the government. The bills are needed to fill in the details of this summer’s budget and debt deal — which reversed cuts scheduled to slash the Pentagon and domestic programs and increased the government’s borrowing cap so it won’t default on its payments and Treasury notes.

Sweeping votes on July’s budget blueprint were a kumbaya moment in Trump’s polarized capital. But the Senate Appropriations Committee, tasked with filling in the details, has been beset by infighting in advance of a bill drafting session on Thursday.

Democrats complain that panel chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., following the lead of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is shortchanging the popular health and education measure to fund Trump’s $5 billion request for his border wall. They are also furious about Trump’s moves to raid $3.6 billion in military base construction projects to pay for 11 additional border fence segments totaling 175 miles (282 kilometers) in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

“That’s created a real problem,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the most senior member of the Appropriations Committee. “To take money from substandard schools for children of military people … that’s left a very bad taste.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is poised with an amendment to an almost $700 billion Pentagon funding bill to block Trump’s unprecedented fiscal maneuvers, and he has several potential GOP allies on the committee.

Durbin’s threat doesn’t seem to have Republicans on edge, but Republicans say that Democrats such as Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a savvy panel insider, are breaking summertime promises to avoid adding “poison pills” to the measures that could bog them down or attract Trump veto promises.

In particular, Murray is pressing to overturn a Trump executive order that takes away federal family planning funds from organizations like Planned Parenthood that counsel women about their abortion options.

The stakes were raised last month when Planned Parenthood announced it would stop accepting Title X federal family planning funds rather than comply with a Department of Health and Human Services edict to comply with the abortion counseling ban. Two Planned Parenthood clinics in Ohio closed this week.

Murray’s amendment would likely pass the Appropriations panel, where two pro-abortion rights GOP women would likely side with her. Facing that prospect, Shelby dropped the health funding measure from the agenda, along with a foreign aid bill that also faced an abortion controversy.

“His gag order changed Congress’ intent” to award family planning grants to organizations such as Planned Parenthood, Murray said. “Title X has had bipartisan support forever.”

The panel has a long history of smoothing over its differences on abortion in the interest of getting its legislation passed, however, and both sides want to press on and work out the challenges. House members like Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., are eager to start House-Senate conference committee talks aimed at legislation both chambers can pass, as is McConnell.

“We’re hopefully going to get past this little rough patch and get back to the agreement we all signed onto,” McConnell said Wednesday.

“We’ll get it done because there’s a desire to get it done,” Leahy said. “We know how to do it.”

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GOP narrowly averts defeat in NC special election

North Carolina 9th district Republican congressional candidate Dan Bishop celebrates his victory in Monroe, N.C., Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

Conservative Republican Dan Bishop won a special election for an open House seat in North Carolina, averting a demoralizing Democratic capture of a district the GOP has held for nearly six decades. But his narrow victory didn’t erase questions about whether President Donald Trump and his party’s congressional candidates face troubling headwinds approaching 2020.

Bishop, a state senator best known for a North Carolina law dictating which public bathrooms transgender people can use, defeated centrist Democrat Dan McCready on Tuesday. Bishop tied himself tightly to Trump, who staged an election eve rally for him in the district, and Tuesday’s voting seemed no less than a referendum on the Republican president, who quickly took credit for the triumph.

“Dan Bishop was down 17 points 3 weeks ago. He then asked me for help, we changed his strategy together, and he ran a great race. Big Rally last night,” Trump tweeted. No polling has emerged publicly that showed Bishop with a deficit of that magnitude. Operatives from both parties and analysts had long said the race was too close to call.

The results in the district underscored the rural-urban split between the parties, with Bishop, 55, running up substantial numbers in outlying areas and McCready eroding GOP advantages in suburban areas. McCready’s moderate profile resembled that of many Democrats who won in Republican-leaning districts in the 2018 midterms and, even with the loss on Tuesday, showed the durability of that approach.

Bishop’s margin — a little more than 2 percentage points — was far less than the 11 percentage points by which Trump captured the district in 2016. And it was only slightly greater than when then-GOP candidate Mark Harris seemed to win the seat over McCready, 36, last year — before those results were annulled after evidence of vote tampering surfaced and a new election was ordered.

Republicans have held the seat since 1963, and its loss would have been a worrisome preface to the party’s presidential and congressional campaigns next year.

“I think it means Trump is going to get a second term, and Republicans will retake the majority,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in an interview with The Associated Press. Many analysts think a GOP takeover will be difficult.

Special elections generally attract such low turnout that their results aren’t predictive of future general elections. Even so, the narrow margin in the GOP-tilted district suggested that Democrats’ 2018 string of victories in suburban districts in red states including Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas could persist next year.

Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, who runs House Democrats’ political committee, said the close race showed her party is “pushing further into Republican strongholds” and was in a “commanding position” to do well next year.

Michael Bitzer, a politics professor at Catawba College in North Carolina, said the narrow margin suggests that the country’s other closely divided swing districts “could be still up for grabs.”

There is almost no pathway to Republicans regaining House control next year unless they avoid losing more suburban districts and win back some they lost last year.

The district stretches from Charlotte, one of the nation’s financial nerve centers, through its flourishing eastern suburbs and into less prosperous rural counties along the South Carolina line. More than half its voters were expected to come from the suburbs.

Since Trump became president, voters in such communities — particularly women and college-educated voters — have abandoned Trump in droves over his conservative social policies and vitriolic rhetoric on immigration and race.

Suburban defections would also jeopardize the reelection prospects of Trump, who’s already facing slipping poll numbers. Limiting the erosion of those voters will be crucial for him to retain swing states like North Carolina, which he won by less than 4 percentage points in 2016.

But Tuesday’s vote showed that Bishop benefited from the district’s conservative leanings.

“Bishop, his policies follow my convictions — after hearing Bishop, knowing that he’s for the Second Amendment and he’s against illegal immigration,” said Susie Sisk, 73, a retiree from Mint Hill. The registered Democrat said she voted for Bishop.

Along with a GOP victory in a second vacant House district in North Carolina, Republicans pared the Democratic majority in the House to 235-199, plus one independent. That means to win control of the chamber in 2020, Republicans will need to gain 19 seats, which a slew of GOP retirements and demographic changes around the country suggests will be difficult.

In the day’s other special election, Republican Greg Murphy, a doctor and state legislator, defeated Democrat Allen Thomas — as expected — to keep a House district along North Carolina’s Atlantic coast.

That seat has been vacant since February, when 13-term GOP Rep. Walter Jones died, and Trump won the district handily in 2016.

The bathroom law that Bishop sponsored was repealed after it prompted a national outcry and boycotts that the AP estimated cost North Carolina $3.7 billion.

Bishop bound himself tightly to Trump, backing his proposed border wall with Mexico and accusing Trump critics of being intent on “destroying him.”

“The voters said no to radical, liberal polices pushed by today’s Democratic Party,” Bishop said in a victory speech.

McCready, a former Marine who started a firm that’s financed solar energy projects to cast himself as a job creator and environmental champion. He also focused on containing health care costs and ran a spot featuring his trademark promise to prioritize “country over party.”

In his concession speech, McCready referred to the ballot fraud investigation that led to Tuesday’s special election.

“When the people in power sought to silence the voices of the voters, stole their ballots, forged signatures from them, filled in vote choices for them,” McCready said, “we fought back and we won.”

At a rally Trump staged for Bishop in July, Trump said four Democratic women of color should “go back” to their home countries, though all but one was born in the U.S. The crowd began chanting “Send her back!”

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Associated Press writers Emery P. Dalesio and Gary D. Robertson contributed to this report from Raleigh, N.C.
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McConnell waiting on Trump to decide on any actions to control guns

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Congressional Republicans are waiting for the White House to chart a path forward on gun violence legislation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday, effectively putting the burden on President Donald Trump to decide the GOP’s legislative response to the spate of mass shootings that included another deadly attack in Texas over the weekend.

Asked about prospects for a Senate vote on legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled House to expand background checks for gun purchases, McConnell said, “The administration is in the process of studying what they’re prepared to support, if anything.”

The Kentucky Republican said he expects an answer from the White House next week, adding that he wants to make sure that senators “would actually be making a law and not just having serial votes” on proposals to stem gun violence.

McConnell’s comments point to the challenge ahead as Congress returns to a gun debate that emerged during their summer recess, when mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, left 31 people dead. While Trump has said he wants to work with Congress to “stop the menace of mass attacks,” he’s waffled on support for expanding background checks, making the next steps uncertain. Trump and other Republicans have talked of pursuing other measures to address mental health or codify “red flag” laws that allow guns to be taken from people who pose harm to themselves or others, but even those measures face skepticism among GOP lawmakers.

The dynamic appears unchanged even after a shooting rampage in West Texas over the weekend that killed at least seven people. The Texas gunman obtained his AR-style rifle through a private sale, allowing him to evade a federal background check that previously blocked him from getting a gun, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press. The official spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation.

A bill passed by the House in February would require background checks on all gun sales, including those between strangers who meet online or at gun shows. The Senate has not taken up legislation, and McConnell appeared to set a high bar for Senate action when lawmakers return next week after a five-week recess. If Trump favors background checks or other legislation he has discussed publicly in recent weeks, and senators “know that if we pass it it’ll become law,” then he’ll put it on the Senate floor for a vote, McConnell told radio host Hugh Hewitt.

Trump in a tweet Tuesday urged Congress to “get back to work,” but omitted any reference to guns, focusing instead on prescription drug prices, healthcare and infrastructure.

Trump said Sunday that any gun measure must satisfy the competing goals of protecting public safety and the constitutional right to gun ownership.

“For the most part, sadly, if you look at the last four or five (shootings) going back even five or six or seven years … as strong as you make your background checks, they would not have stopped any of it,” Trump said. “So it’s a big problem. It’s a mental problem. It’s a big problem.”

Trump’s comments were reminiscent of his wavering last year, when he vowed to support background checks in the wake of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, only to relent after receiving pressure from the National Rifle Association.

This time there seems to be more sustained momentum to produce some sort of measure after Trump asked aides to pull together a comprehensive list of ideas. White House officials have been meeting with lawmakers and congressional staff as they try to formulate a plan that Trump can support without risking backlash from his political base.

“We’re looking at a lot of different bills, ideas, concepts. It’s been going on for a long while,” Trump told reporters Sunday after returning to the White House from Camp David.

NRA head Wayne LaPierre has repeatedly spoken to Trump and warned him about losing support from NRA members. But White House aides contend the president’s base would stick with him regardless. They point to strong support for background checks among Republicans and gun owners and believe they can fashion a proposal that the gun lobby — while not supporting — may not vehemently oppose.

Among the proposals being considered: red flag laws, more money for mental health and making sure juvenile information gets into existing background checks. Additionally, White House aides have said Attorney General William Barr is drafting legislation to speed up the death penalty for mass shooters.

Sen. Chris Murphy, a leading gun control supporter, said Trump has told him personally that he remains committed to working on expanding background checks.

Even so, the Connecticut Democrat rates the chance of Congress actually approving anything at “less than 50-50,” especially if Trump appears willing “to give the NRA veto power” over legislation such as a bipartisan bill to expand background checks being pushed Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

“I am skeptical that these efforts are going to bear fruit. I think it’s very hard to negotiate with this White House when the president’s public positions seem to change by the day,” Murphy said last month. “I’m going to try … because the stakes are so high.”

As senators continue conversations, House Democrats are moving ahead on other bills, with the House Judiciary Committee set to consider a host of proposals to address gun violence at a hearing next week. The panel postponed a hearing originally scheduled Wednesday because of Hurricane Dorian.

The committee will consider bills to ban high-capacity magazines, establish a federal program for “red flag” laws and expand bans on firearm ownership to people convicted of certain hate crimes. The panel will also hold a hearing later this month on a bill to ban military-style assault weapons.

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Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo in Washington, Jonathan Lemire in New York and Jill Colvin in Dublin, Ireland, contributed to this story.

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