Keeping Focus on Gun Bills, Democrats Urge McConnell and Senate to Act
WASHINGTON — House Democrats, seeking to pressure the Senate Republican leadership to take up gun safety legislation, broke away from their August recess on Tuesday to appear in the Capitol with victims of gun violence, who pleaded with Congress to act swiftly to prevent further bloodshed.
Six top Democrats called on Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, to bring senators back to Washington to pass two House bills: one mandating background checks on all gun purchases, including at gun shows and on the internet, and another extending the time the F.B.I. has to complete background checks.
“The time is not simply for reflection,” said Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic leader. “The time is not for a moment of silence. The time for the Senate is to act. The time is to listen to the American people.”
Returning to Washington from their districts, the lawmakers shared stories from their constituents demanding action. Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan, whose husband, John, was on the board of the National Rifle Association before his death in February, described attending a festival in her hometown in the days after mass shootings in Ohio and Texas. She said an Arab-American child approached her and asked, “Why do people hate us? Are we safe?”
“I shouldn’t be answering questions of mothers of kindergartners or of children themselves about whether they are safe or hated,” Ms. Dingell said, her voice rising. “We can’t keep going to our corners and not figuring out what we are going to do.”
On the other side of the Capitol, Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, has also been pressing Mr. McConnell to take up the House legislation and intends to formally request that the Trump administration cancel its request for $5 billion in border wall funding and reallocate the money for other uses, including initiatives to address gun violence and violent white supremacy, according to a senior aide to Mr. Schumer.
Gun safety has long been one of the most divisive issues in Washington, but this month’s massacres in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, have thrust it onto the congressional agenda in a way not seen since 2012, after the massacre of 26 children and staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Congress failed to take action in the wake of that tragedy; a bipartisan background check bill fell in the Senate in 2013. The House, now under Democratic control, passed a background check bill earlier this year, along with a bill extending the time the F.B.I. has to conduct background checks to 10 business days from three. But Mr. McConnell had refused to take up the measures because President Trump threatened to veto them.
But while Mr. Trump has said repeatedly that Mr. McConnell favors expanding background checks, the leader has not committed to taking up the bill, and he has said he has no intention of bringing the Senate back early to consider it.
Mr. Trump on Sunday telephoned Senator Christopher S. Murphy, a Democrat who has been one of the leading voices in Congress for gun control, an indication that the president is interested in pursuing legislation. Earlier in the week, Mr. Murphy had contacted the White House to indicate that he was willing to work with Mr. Trump on the issue, which prompted the call.