AG Barr on Capitol Hill as Republicans await word from Trump on guns
Republican lawmakers are bracing for the White House to unveil the President Donald Trump’s position on guns, divided over what steps they hope the President will take and clinging to any word from administration officials on where he might be leaning.
Attorney General William Barr was on the Hill Tuesday afternoon to talk with members about guns, and he has been in contact with lawmakers directly, but Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham said Barr still wasn’t clear where Trump stood on background checks.
“They’re still talking,” Graham said after having talked to the attorney general on Monday. “We’re trying out some new ideas on expanded background checks.”
Barr has suggested to the President personally that he consider expanded background checks, noting law enforcement support for universal checks, according to a US official briefed on the matter. But some of the President’s domestic policy aides, who have the upper hand on the issue, have fought against any such move.
Barr is expected to return Wednesday for more discussions, according to a US official briefed on the matter.
While some Republicans like Graham have signaled a willingness to compromise on the issue of expanding background checks at gun shows and over the internet, some of the President’s conservative allies in Congress are hoping the President keeps background checks off the table.
“We went through this last year, and our members remained firm in where they were,” one GOP leadership source told CNN. “Overall there isn’t widespread support and I don’t see it changing enough for it to happen.”
Behind the scenes, administration officials are trying to keep members of Congress in the loop with an aide to Sen. Pat Toomey telling CNN that Toomey will meet with senior administration officials Tuesday night and a person familiar with the negotiations saying Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin was also expecting to be briefed by the White House in upcoming days.
But, until Trump speaks, everyone is waiting.
The holding pattern has created tension on the Hill with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unequivocally laying out he won’t bring up any legislation until he’s clear where the President stands.
“I want to know what the President supports, It’s not unimportant to my members. What I would like to know is what he thinks would make some progress, and he would sign, and until we get that kind of guidance, we’re in a holding pattern so to speak,” McConnell said.
Aides have expressed some surprise over just how long it has taken for the White House to make it clear where Trump stands.
A key GOP lawmaker said talks are around what can get done.
“All we know is that they are still batting around ideas, talking to individual senators, groups of senators, others,” Majority Whip John Thune said. “I don’t sense that this is coming to a conclusion just yet. But I think they are grappling with a path forward and trying to figure out what the art of the doable is and what are solutions that will meaningfully address the issue of gun violence.”