Days after the Senate began its August recess, a pair of mass shootings in Ohio and New Mexico led, once again, to calls for Congress to “do something” about mass shootings in America. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell resisted demands at the time that he bring the Senate back to Washington, insisting that lawmakers would work on the issue over the break so they could return in September “and go forward and make a law.”
September’s now here and there’s no evidence Congress will do anything. That’s not for a lack of effort from Democrats, who have made gun-control legislation their top priority this fall. They’re pushing in particular for expanded background checks, which passed the House in February. But McConnell has held up that legislation in the Senate, refusing to do anything on gun issues without first knowing if President Trump backs it.
But what Trump supports is not easy to nail down. Trump appeared open to expanding background checks in the aftermath of the Ohio and New Mexico shootings, but quickly backtracked. He’s shown himself unable to resist the demands of the NRA, despite public polling showing 89 percent of Americans approve of stronger background-check laws.
This week, the White House is expected to put forward a package of gun-related measures that seem more like feigning action than attempting to stop mass killings. Among Trump’s plans are expediting the death penalty for mass shooters and requiring the FBI to tell local police when someone fails a background check.
Republican frustration with Trump’s lack of clarity on the issue has started to spill into public. Senators are anonymously complaining about Trump’s inability to define what he’s for and going on Sunday talk shows to implore him to make his preferences clear. “The president needs to step up here and set some guidelines for what he would do,” Missouri senator Roy Blunt said on Meet the Press over the weekend.
But the White House doesn’t deserve all the blame. Senate Republicans are also abdicating their responsibly. They’re terrified of acting without Trump’s approval and live in fear of angering his ravenous base. They acknowledge the popularity of gun-control measures, especially with the suburban voters who are abandoning the GOP en masse, but they’re too afraid of Trump’s base to split with him, The Hill reports:
McConnell doesn’t want to allow any daylight to emerge between Senate Republicans and Trump, who maintains an approval rating among Republican voters north of 80 percent.
He and other Republicans want Trump to provide political cover so they can pass a package with reduced risk of an angry backlash from their right flank.
So they’re left waiting for Trump to tell them what to do. Meanwhile, Trump is so irrationally afraid of his base that he’s unlikely to do anything at all. And so, as ever when it comes to the issue of guns and mass shootings, it looks like nothing will be done.