Congress debates gun safety legislation in the wake of the Uvalde school shooting

As the nation mourns the victims of mass shootings in Tulsa, Uvalde and Buffalo, President Biden is addressing the nation Thursday and urging Congress to pass "common sense" gun laws. This as the House Judiciary Committee reviewed a slate of proposals including raising the age to buy weapons and incentivizing red flag laws. The Washington Post's Leigh Ann Caldwell joins Geoff Bennett to discuss.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    As the nation mourns the victims of mass shootings in Tulsa, Uvalde and Buffalo, President Biden will address the nation tonight and urge Congress to pass commonsense gun laws.

    A bipartisan group of senators continued conversations this week to figure out what, if anything, can gain the required 60 votes to pass. And, today, the House Judiciary Committee considered its own slate of proposals. The committee's top Democrat and Republican disagreed sharply over the issue.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY):

    Too soon? My friends, what the hell are you waiting for? You say that none of the solutions proposed here will stop gun violence in America. Well, there, sadly, I agree.

    This bill will not alone save every life we will lose to gun violence this year. But it will save some.

  • Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH):

    This bill would not stop the terrible events. It wouldn't harden schools, but it will sure take away the rights of the American people who follow the law. That's what this is all about.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Leigh Ann Caldwell is anchor for "Washington Post Live" and co-author of the "Early 202" newsletter. She has been following the debate in Congress, and joins me now.

    It's good to have you here with us.

    And the House Judiciary Committee, as you well know, they are considering what is really this mega-bill. It's eight pieces of legislation wrapped into one. It does everything from raising the age to purchase semiautomatic weapons to the — to 21. It outlaws high-capacity magazines and bump stocks. It requires background checks for ghost guns, among other things.

    But nowhere on this list is an assault weapons ban. Why not?

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell, The Washington Post:

    Well, because an assault weapons ban, my sources tell me, don't have the votes even in a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Even in the House?

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell:

    Even in the House, it doesn't have the votes.

    The bill has 207 co-sponsors. It needs 218 Democrats most likely to pass. And there's a number of people who aren't signed onto this bill. And I'm told by leadership aides, by rank-and-file aides, that they are struggling to find those additional Democratic votes in order to reach that 218.

    Speaker Pelosi announced today in a letter to her colleagues that she's going to hold a hearing on an assault weapons ban. But that doesn't mean she's going to bring it up to the floor.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And then on a parallel track over in the Senate, you have Chris Murphy, Senator Murphy, who came to Congress representing the Newtown community. He is leading this bipartisan effort.

    And they are focused on what I'm told is a fairly narrow set of gun reforms…

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell:


  • Geoff Bennett:

    … red flag laws, which William just told us about, expanding background checks, adding funding for mental health services, for school security.

    Are there 10 votes, are there 10 Republican votes in the Senate, based on your reporting, to get that ultimately to the president's desk?

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell:

    Well, there's a number of Republicans who are involved in these negotiations. So, theoretically, if they come to an agreement with someone like Senator Cornyn, who's very close with leadership, Senator Toomey perhaps. — Lindsey Graham is involved in these negotiations — then, presumably, they would have the 10 votes.

    I don't think that they would announce an agreement unless they did, but we will see. But let's be clear. These things that they're talking about are very — they're kind of around the edges. They're not going to address raising the age of assault weapons. It's not a lot of gun restrictions.

    What it's trying to do is just to put some safeguards around the opportunity to purchase guns with these red flag laws, perhaps just incentivizing states to strengthen their red flag laws.

    As far as the mental health component is concerned, something that Republicans are really focused on, it's not really clear what they're going to do about that. Saying mental health is the problem is one thing. Legislating that is a whole other issue. And we will see where they come down.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Help us understand Mitch McConnell's role in all of this, the Senate Republican leader.

    He early on encouraged John Cornyn, the Texas Republican, to work with Democrats to find some compromise here. This is the same Republican Party leader who in the past has blocked a number of gun reforms, to include red flag laws, which even senators like Senator Marco Rubio had supported.

    Marco Rubio introduced two red flag law pieces of legislation onto the floor and never got a vote under Mitch McConnell's leadership. Is this a change of heart? Help us understand his reasoning here.

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell:

    Well, a lot of Democrats especially are skeptical about what Leader McConnell is saying.

    Some people think that he has put John Cornyn into these negotiations to make sure that there's not a really impactful legislation that — or agreement that comes to the floor, something that's very minor that doesn't really do that much.

    The other thing that you have to think about with Leader McConnell, as you well know, is that everything is calculated in what is going to win him back his majority. The midterm elections are just five months away. And so he reads the polls better than anyone else. He has a lot of inside information, he will do nothing that harms his members who are trying to beat Democrats.

    And so he is deciding what — he is making this decision what he is saying based on what the polling is saying at this moment. Whether that translates into actual legislation that is going to pass, we will see.

    But, over the past couple of days in Kentucky, Leader McConnell has kind of defined what the realms of this is. He said, this is not gun restrictions. This is not gun laws. It's school safety and it is mental health.

    And that is much different than something like red flag laws. That's different than background checks.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Leigh Ann Caldwell of The Washington Post, thanks so much for your insight and analysis.

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell:

    Of course.

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