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Pelosi asks Trump to call back Senate on gun control

The Hill logo The Hill 8/8/2019 Mike Lillis and Zack Budryk
a group of people holding a sign: Pelosi asks Trump to call back Senate on gun control © Getty Images Pelosi asks Trump to call back Senate on gun control

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is enlisting the help of President Trump as Democrats race to increase pressure on Senate Republicans to cut short their summer break to consider gun safety legislation.

In a letter sent to the White House on Thursday, Pelosi urged Trump to press Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to reconvene the upper chamber in order to take up House-passed legislation expanding background checks, citing the "deep sadness and great urgency" created by the recent mass shootings around the country.

"Mr. President, we have an opportunity to work in a bipartisan way to pass gun violence prevention background checks," Pelosi wrote. "However, Leader Mitch McConnell, describing himself as the 'grim reaper,' has been an obstacle to taking any action."

The letter comes a day after more than 200 House Democrats wrote to McConnell with a similar message. The Democrats' background check bill, which passed through the House in February, would extend FBI screenings prior to gun sales to include unlicensed dealers, like those operating at gun shows and on the internet. Under current law, only licensed dealers are required to run prospective gun buyers through the federal database designed to block sales to felons, domestic abusers and others prohibited from owning firearms.

Trump, responding to the recent mass shootings on Monday, expressed an appetite to move quickly on so-called red flag legislation, which empowers local law enforcement to seize guns from those found by the courts to pose a danger to themselves or others. He has also expressed an openness this week to support background check legislation, though it was less clear he would press congressional Republicans, long-opposed to such proposals, to take them up.

McConnell, for his part, is rejecting calls to return to Washington during the long August recess. In an interview Thursday with a local Kentucky radio station, he suggested Democrats are simply trying to exploit the tragedies for political gain.

"If we did that, we would just have people scoring points and nothing would happen," he told WHAS. "There has to be a bipartisan discussion here of what we can agree on."

Yet in a sharp change of tone, McConnell - who has long opposed expanding background checks - said he's now open to considering the idea. That, along with red-flag legislation, are now at the top of the agenda, he said.

"Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass," he said.

The debate arrives as congressional leaders in both parties are scrambling for the appropriate response to the mass shootings of recent weeks in Gilroy, Calif.; El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio. The latter two, occurring within 24 hours of one another over the weekend, left 31 people dead, horrified the country and reignited the national debate over gun reform and the rise of domestic terrorism.

Amid the debate, some House Democrats have urged Pelosi to bring the House back into session, and leaders of the House Judiciary Committee are weighing plans to return the panel to Washington to move gun reforms beyond the background check expansion. Pelosi has been open to both strategies, though her stronger focus has been to pressure McConnell to reconvene first.

"This extraordinary moment in our history requires all of us to take extraordinary action to save lives," she wrote to Trump.

Jordain Carney contributed to this report, which was updated at 5:15 p.m.

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