WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is resisting pressure to bring senators back from recess to address gun violence, despite wrenching calls to "do something" in the aftermath of back-to-back mass shootings.
Instead, the Republican leader is taking a more measured approach, as GOP senators are talking frequently among themselves, and with the White House, in the face of mounting criticism that Congress is failing to act.
President Donald Trump is privately calling up senators — and publicly pushing for an expansion of background checks for firearms purchases — but McConnell knows those ideas have little Republican support. In fact, the White House threatened to veto a House-passed background checks bill earlier this year. Yet, as the nation reels from the frequency of shootings and their grave toll, McConnell's unwillingness to confront the gun lobby or move more swiftly is coming under scrutiny.
"I can only do what I can do," the president told reporters as he departed Washington for visits to Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, where 31 people were killed in two mass shootings over the weekend.
On Wednesday, Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown made a personal plea to Trump during his visit to "call on Sen. McConnell to bring the Senate back in session this week, to tell the Senate he wants the background checks bill that has already passed the House."
House Democrats signed onto a letter urging McConnell to act immediately on the House-passed legislation, which would require federal background checks for all firearms sales and transfers, including online and at gun shows. In Kentucky, where McConnell is recuperating from a weekend fall that left his shoulder fractured, activists have been demonstrating at his home and protesting at his downtown Louisville
"House Democrats are moving prayerfully and purposefully to advance action," wrote Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a letter Wednesday to Democratic colleagues. The Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., may take action during the recess on so-called "red flag" legislation to allow removal of guns from those deemed a threat to themselves or
But none of it has moved the Republican Senate to act more urgently. McConnell's office is declining comment, referring back to a short statement he issued late Monday saying he was tasking three GOP committee chairmen "to engage in bipartisan discussions of potential solutions."
The politics of gun violence are difficult for Republicans, including McConnell, who would risk losing support as he seeks reelection in Kentucky if he backed restricting access to firearms and ammunition. Other Republicans, including those in Colorado, Maine and swing states, also would face difficult votes, despite the clamor for some changes to gun laws.
"In Congress, we're trying to come up with some answers," Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn, who is also up for reelection, said after donating blood in El Paso.