Democrats confront reality on gun talks as senators search for ‘incremental’ deal with GOP
“I’ve also heard Republicans make clear that as long as we’re not talking about doing everything at once, as long as we’re talking about more incremental but significant changes, they’re open,” said Murphy, who has been briefing President Joe Biden on the state of the talks.
And sources in both parties told CNN that a push to raise the age to 21 for purchasing semi-automatic rifles has yet to gain much traction in Senate talks, as Republican opposition to the idea begins to mount and Democrats are uncertain whether it can win the necessary 60 votes to break a filibuster.
“Not gonna happen,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a chief GOP negotiator, tweeted about imposing new restrictions on guns, though his office declined to specify what he meant.
Asked last week about raising the age to 21 for buying the powerful guns, North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis — a Republican involved in the bipartisan talks — was skeptical.
“When I think of that, I think do we take a look at the age you can enlist in the military?” Tillis asked. “So there are a lot of complexities to that question.”
Indeed, even after the Democratic concessions on gun control, senators say, the prospects that bipartisan talks could collapse in the coming days are very real.
“There’s still significant work to do and hurdles to overcome,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who is heavily involved in the bipartisan talks.
Numerous legislative efforts in the wake of many subsequent mass shootings have also floundered, including an effort by Murphy to revive the Manchin-Toomey bill last year by simply closing the so-called gun show loophole and leaving out background checks on internet sales altogether. But despite Murphy’s talks with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham on the matter last year, the renewed push to narrow the Manchin-Toomey bill never coalesced into a deal.
“It’s too broad,” Graham told CNN when asked if he could get behind the Manchin-Toomey plan in the aftermath of last week’s Uvalde, Texas, massacre.
“I think next week is critical,” Murphy said, given that senators have been at home during this week’s recess and return to Washington next week. “My hope is that we’ll have a product for both Republicans and Democrats to look at when we return. And that will give us a sense as to whether we can get this passed. Every day that goes by I’m more optimistic. But I don’t think we’ll really know until everybody gets back in town.”
How the Senate talks are shaping up
Republicans, including Cornyn and Tillis, are in talks over school safety provisions as well as ways to bolster the US mental health system. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona, is involved in those talks as well.
Yet it’s far from clear how much money senators will propose to bolster mental health programs. And it’s also uncertain whether Republicans will demand that the costs of the programs be fully paid for by spending cuts or unused Covid-19 relief money — something that could cause Democrats to revolt.
Murphy said he didn’t yet know how the group would structure mental health provisions and how much it would cost.
“It’s all about what can get 60-plus votes in the Senate, and we’re working on that and that will have to do with the spending as well as the provisions,” Murphy said.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate GOP leader, said in his home state of Kentucky on Thursday that he wants a bipartisan deal “to target” the problem, which is “school safety and mental illness” and that it must be “consistent with the Second Amendment” — a different view from that of many Democrats, who see lax gun laws as the main culprit.
But with McConnell’s support critical to determining whether a deal can reach 60 votes in the Senate, Murphy viewed the GOP leader’s comments in a positive light.
“I’ve read carefully everything that Senator McConnell has said in the past 48 hours,” Murphy said. “And so far, I don’t read anything he said to foreclose the deal that is very focused on keeping weapons out of the hands of potentially dangerous people.”
Yet other issues could be left on the cutting room floor. There are ongoing talks, including between Blumenthal and Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, about safely storing firearms at residences. But there’s still a philosophical disagreement on how and whether to mandate certain approaches on storing the weapons, according to several sources.
Despite the skepticism among Republicans, Murphy would not rule out a deal on a ban on 18- to 20-year-olds purchasing semi-automatic rifles like AR-15s, given that has been a recurring characteristic of mass murderers, including in Uvalde.
But whether the Senate agrees to new age restrictions is highly uncertain.
“We’re certainly having a conversation about the fact that mass shooters tend to be of the same profile: young and male in their late teens and early 20s,” Murphy said of the Senate talks. “I don’t know what we’ll end up with, but I think there is an acknowledgment from everybody that a lot of these mass shooters tend to be of the same profile.”
Any deal, Murphy conceded, will be “far from perfect.” But he said that at the moment GOP interest on finding a deal has not waned.
“Too often they’ll be interested in talking for the first couple of days, and then it gets harder for my phone calls to be returned,” Murphy said of Republicans. “That’s not what’s happening this time. This time there is an earnestness of engagement from a cross-section of Republicans that’s mounting by the day.”
CNN’s Ted Barrett and Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report.