Pa.’s Toomey: ‘Too soon to call it quits’ on background checks

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., says he’s not giving up hope that he can win support from President Trump and his fellow Senate Republicans to expand background checks for gun sales, he told reporters Tuesday in his Capitol Hill office. 

But the Lehigh Valley lawmaker stressed that he doesn’t think the universal background check bill that passed the House earlier this year has a shot at becoming law, and he accused Democratic leaders of playing politics by continuing to insist on a Senate vote on the House-passed bill, H.R. 8. 

Since 2013, Toomey has been advocating for a version of background check legislation that has garnered some Republican support, but still fell short of passing the GOP-led Senate in recent years. He’s said there’s renewed momentum for his effort following the recent spate of mass shootings across the country. 

Toomey is seeking to require background checks for all gun sales in commercial settings, including at gun shows, online sales, and in classified ads. The House bill, H.R. 8, is broader, and would require a background check on every gun sale or transfer, with some exceptions. 

Toomey said he’s been talking to Trump, who’s open to the idea. He’s spoken to the president about a half a dozen times over the past month, Toomey said.

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“The president has been very engaged. He’s been very receptive,” Toomey said. “He is open to doing something in this space, and from my conversations with him and confirmed by his staff, he has not yet made a decision regarding exactly what he’s going to support.”

Trump publicly suggested a willingness to support stricter background checks after the mass shootings in August in El Paso and Dayton, but he appeared to reverse course after meeting with the head of the NRA, multiple news outlets reported

Toomey isn’t giving up, he said. “I think it is way too soon to call it quits on this.” He suggested that some Republicans who are new to the Senate might sign on, and other Republicans who voted against his gun control measures in the past might now be willing to support stricter background checks. 

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Tuesday that the White House is preparing a proposal to respond to recent shootings and that he’ll decide to proceed after seeing Trump’s plan, the Hill reported

Toomey said some of his Democratic colleagues have made a “good faith effort to get to common ground on this,” but he blasted some congressional Democrats for their insistence that the Senate vote on H.R. 8. 

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“We have some really constructive conversations across Pennsylvania — groups like Moms Demand Action, had the Pittsburgh mayor in my office just earlier today, looking for ways that he can be helpful,” Toomey said. 

“I will say there are some people who are trying to be unhelpful,” he added. In particular, Toomey said, he’s disappointed by the rhetoric from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.,  and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who have called on McConnell to hold a vote on H.R. 8. 

“Everybody knows H.R. 8 is not going to become a law,” Toomey said. “But something that expands background checks significantly might become law and we ought to work on what’s actually possible, rather than just trying to score political points.” 

Speaking at a gun violence forum on Tuesday, Pelosi said McConnell “refuses to do his part to save lives.”  

She added, “No one’s political survival is more important than the survival of our children. Thousands of people, thousands of children, have died since Senator McConnell first refused to take up our bills.”

Pelosi continued, “We will fight on every front, in the courts, in the Congress and in the court of public opinion, to make sure this issue is too hot to handle for the GOP to block.”

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