Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says Republicans are working across the aisle to try to reach a compromise bill to respond to the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting with a focus on mental illness and school safety.
The Uvalde shooting left 19 children as well as two teachers dead, and has prompted lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to try to take action.
However, while Democrats have demanded stricter gun control laws, Republicans have pushed for legislation that increases safety at schools while also protecting the Second Amendment.
Speaking in Kentucky, McConnell said that Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) are working to find some compromise between the two positions.
“We have a group led by Senator Cornyn and Senator Murphy on the Democratic side discussing how we might be able to come together to target the problem, mental illness, and school safety,” McConnell said. “We’ll get back at it next week and hope to have a result.”
In a Twitter post, Murphy insisted that “failure cannot be an option.”
“In between parades, I’ve been on the phone today [with] Republican and Democratic Senators trying to find the common denominator on a gun violence bill,” Murphy wrote. “[Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)] has given us just over a week to find a compromise. This time, failure cannot be an option.”
Speaking to ABC News about the ongoing negotiations, Murphy said that legislation could go beyond the minor reforms many Republicans want, including possibly expanding the federal gun background check system, red flag laws, and laws around storing weapons.
“We’re talking about red flag laws. We’re talking about strengthening and expanding the background check system, if not universal background checks. We’re talking about safe storage. And yes, we’re also talking about mental health resources and more security dollars for schools,” Murphy said, claiming that their bill “could have a significant downward pressure” on shootings.
“Maybe that’s the most important thing we could do is just show that progress is possible and that the sky doesn’t fall for Republicans if they support some of these commonsense measures,” he said.
In a post referring to the 2019 Virginia Beach shooting, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.)—who mounted an unsuccessful bid as Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016—also projected a sense of urgency.
“My heart is with their loved ones today,” Kaine wrote. “If we can act to prevent the heartbreak their families felt, we must. If we don’t demonstrate—by more than just words—that we are touched by these tragedies, we’re committing the sin of indifference.”
McConnell first announced efforts to reach across the aisle on May 26, when he said: “I’ve encouraged [Cornyn] to talk to Senator [Kyrsten] Sinema, Senator Murphy, and others who are interested in trying to get an outcome that’s directly related to the problem.
He added that he is “hopeful that we could come up with a bipartisan solution that’s directly related to the facts of this awful massacre.”
McConnell was anxious to emphasize that he was not pushing for legislation that would advance a partisan Democrat agenda, but only to find a legislative solution directly related to the circumstances of the Uvalde shooting.
“What I’ve asked Senator Cornyn to do is to meet with the Democrats who are interested in getting a bipartisan solution and come up with a proposal, if possible, that’s crafted to meet this particular problem,” he said.
McConnell’s lukewarm support for a compromise package could be a welcome sign for Democrats, who will need the support of at least 10 Republicans to overcome the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster threshold.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also suggested a willingness to work across the aisle on a legislative response.
“I look forward to coming back after the break, see if we can find a pathway forward on common-sense gun reforms,” Graham said, ahead of a planned recess for the Senate.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) also suggested that a bipartisan agreement could be reached.
“Part of I think what some of us are still looking at is: is there a way to identify these individuals that have this propensity?” Rounds told reporters. “Is there a way to provide local law enforcement tools to use? Is there enough resources available at schools to be able to provide additional protection?
“Are those things that we could agree on? Could we find consensus on those things? And I think that’s part of the discussion that may very well ensue in the future.”
He suggested that such a bill may not include new gun regulations at all, but rather might focus on providing localities with additional funding for law enforcement.
“What do you do proactively then, that you could get, you know, 75, 80 votes on the floor of the Senate?” Rounds mused. “Perhaps it is funding—that’s one thing that we’ve been able to do. That is, to promote direct funding for local units, to be able to have the resources available to add additional protections to offer a deterrence for these individuals with, you know, with evil intent or with a serious mental health issue.”
President Joe Biden on May 30 admitted that any deal on new gun laws in the wake of several mass shootings hinges on “rational Republicans” and that he’s limited in terms of what he can do via executive order.
Biden, who spoke to reporters outside the White House in Washington after traveling from his home in Delaware, said he believes the situation has gotten so bad that “everybody is getting more rational about it,” or becoming more likely to support restrictions on gun ownership.
Asked if he has a responsibility to act as president, he said: “I can’t dictate this stuff. I can do the things I’ve done and any executive action I can take, I’ll continue to take. But I can’t outlaw a weapon. I can’t change a background check. I can’t do that.”
In the House, Democrats are also looking at advancing gun legislation.
In a May 31 Twitter post, the House Judiciary Committee Democrats said that they would meet for an emergency mark-up hearing on June 2 to consider the “Protecting Our Kids Act.”
That bill would “provide for an increased age limit on the purchase of certain firearms, prevent gun trafficking, modernize the prohibition on untraceable firearms, [and] encourage the safe storage of firearms” among other measures (pdf).
However, such a wide-ranging bill is unlikely to fly in the Senate, where Democrats must have the support of at least 10 Republicans to overcome the 60-vote filibuster threshold.
Despite their lukewarm willingness to reach a deal, Republicans are unlikely to accept legislation that makes so many changes to federal gun law.
Ultimately, any changes that Democrats want to make to gun laws will need the support of a supermajority in the Senate, and their options are likely to be heavily limited due to the filibuster.
Jack Phillips and Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.