Dems May Plan Gun-Control Theatrics During Pre-Break Session

‘Congress should cancel its August recess so that the Senate can bring up the bills that the House has already passed, and so the House can consider additional measures to address this crisis…’

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(Niels Lesniewski, CQ-Roll Call) Democratic lawmakers itching for action on gun safety legislation will get their first chances to make some noise on Tuesday.

The House and Senate are scheduled to hold pro forma sessions Tuesday, with no legislative business expected in either chamber until a full week after Labor Day in September. However, there’s a long history of members of Congress using the brief moments when the floors of the two chambers open for business during August recesses to engage in a bit of theater.

The most notable example was back in the summer of 2008, when the House Republican minority spoke in the House chamber, with the lights off and the House gaveled out of session, to protest what they saw as a lack of action on high gas prices.

The Senate’s brief session is scheduled for Tuesday at 9 a.m., with the House in line to follow at 3:30 p.m. It will be the first time the chambers will be in session since the two deadly shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend.

During a Democratic Caucus conference call Monday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she had touched base this weekend with some of the families of previous incidences of gun violence who want to put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring up a House-passed bill to expand background checks for gun purchases.

“They’re not into politics. They’re into policy, and that’s exactly where they should be. And they urge us to help—to give us guidance on how we go forward,” she said, according to a Democratic aide on the call.

Pelosi noted the news release she and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer put out Monday morning calling for the Senate to come back into session to pass the background check bill.

“This is where we have to go,” she said. “And, the President and Mitch McConnell have to feel the public sentiment on this. We have a golden opportunity to save lives.”

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, who has long been the lead Republican on a bipartisan background checks bill with Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., is again calling for action on his legislation, but he does not agree with the calls for an immediate return of the Senate.

“I don’t think we’d accomplish anything if we did, and it might end up actually being counterproductive,” Toomey told reporters.

Rather, Toomey said he would be working to try to build GOP support.

“My view is, if we have enough support in the Senate, then we ought to have a vote,” Toomey said. “I intend to do everything I can to persuade Sen. McConnell, if that’s necessary.”

In a joint statement, Manchin and Toomey said that they each spoke to President Donald Trump about background checks Monday. It would not require a “special session” in the literal sense to recall either chamber in the event of an actual bipartisan agreement. The two chambers are technically in session right now, and their leaders have the capability to schedule whatever legislation for consideration that they like.

While the focus will be on the Senate since the Democratic-led House has already passed background check legislation this Congress, Democrats are not just calling for the Senate to come back from recess.

“Congress should cancel its August recess so that the Senate can bring up the bills that the House has already passed, and so the House can consider additional measures to address this crisis, including the Assault Weapons Ban, which I introduced earlier this year,” Rep. David Cicilline said in a statement.

“As we have seen time and time again, it is far too easy for bad people to buy guns in our country,” said Cicilline, the chairman of the House Democrats’ messaging arm. “Congress must act now.”

An immediate return would be difficult, with members of both parties taking part in long-planned travel this week. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer is leading a delegation of 41 members of the House Democratic caucus to Israel and the Palestinian territories through Sunday. The agenda includes meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“Seeing the region firsthand and meeting with key Israeli and Palestinian leaders gives Members insights into a region that is vital both to our own national interests and to global security,” Hoyer said in a statement.

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