Senate Democrats search for path forward on gun control after Texas shooting

Washington — Senate Democratic leaders on Wednesday implored Republican senators to drop their firm opposition to gun control legislation while signaling that the upper chamber won’t immediately move to vote on legislation in the wake of the deadly shooting at a Texas elementary school that left 19 children and two adults dead. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer laid the groundwork on Tuesday to bring votes on legislation expanding criminal background checks and lengthening the waiting period for gun buyers who are flagged for further investigation, but Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin said those gun control measures or others will likely not be taken up until after the Senate’s Memorial Day recess.

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Schumer suggested nothing can be accomplished without Republican support, given that 60 votes are required to overcome a filibuster in the evenly divided Senate. Schumer said he understands the desire for senators to be on the record, but voters know where Republicans stand.

“So what do we do about it, if the slaughter of school children can’t convince Republicans to buck the NRA, what can we do?” Schumer asked. “There are some who want this body to quickly vote on sensible gun safety legislation, legislation supported by the vast majority of Americans — Democrats, Republicans and independents alike — that want to see this body vote quickly so the American people can know which side each senator is on, which side each senator is on. I’m sympathetic to that. And I believe that accountability votes are important. But sadly, this isn’t a case of the American people not knowing where their senators stand, they know. They know because my Republican colleagues are perfectly clear on this issue.” 

Schumer said Americans should “cast their vote in November” and support candidates who will address gun crimes and mass shootings. 

“In the meantime, my Republican colleagues can work with us now,” he continued. “I know this is a slim prospect, very slim, all-too slim. We’ve been burnt so many times before. But this is so important.”

Senate Luncheons 5/24/22
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer holds a news conference at the Capitol on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Manchin reiterated that he will not support eliminating the filibuster to pass gun control legislation, meaning any proposal would need to attract support from at least 10 Republicans.

“Everyone wants to go just to the, ‘Filibuster, filibuster, filibuster. Get rid of that,'” Manchin said. “That’s the easy, easy way out. The bottom line is if this doesn’t move you, nothing will.”

Durbin said he would be meeting with Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Democrats are planning hearings on gun violence as well. 

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who represented the district that included Sandy Hook Elementary School during the deadly shooting there nearly a decade ago as a member of the House, said he had been on the phone all morning with Republican and Democratic colleagues to try to find a legislative path forward. 

“Right now, we need to be in the business of signaling to the American public and parents who are panicking right now that we’re serious about protecting their kids,” Murphy told reporters Wednesday morning. “So whether it’s a smaller expansion of the background check system, whether it’s red flag laws, I just think we have to find a path to ‘yes.'”

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey told reporters he’s been in contact with Murphy, and that he remains interested in expanding the background check system. Toomey has been a proponent of expanding background checks for years, but the legislation has never passed the Senate.

But Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, said he doesn’t have any hope that Republicans will change their minds.

“They are disturbed, upset, troubled, but not willing to change where they are legislating,” Coons said of his GOP colleagues. “This is a bad day. This is a bad day for anything, even vaguely looking like hope or optimism around legislative process or progress.”

GOP Sen. Marco Rubio said Wednesday the “issue here is not the firearm.” 

“Listen, at the end of day you’re arguing about what they’re using but the truth of matter is these people are going to commit these horrifying crimes, whether they have to use another weapon they’re gonna figure out a way to do it,” Rubio told reporters at the Capitol.

In an emotional address Tuesday night, President Biden urged Congress to pass “common-sense” gun legislation.

“As a nation, we have to ask, when in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” Mr. Biden said. “When in God’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?”