This story was updated with comments from Blumenthal at 5:53 p.m.
Washington – Fearing a backlash from his base, President Donald Trump appears to have dropped his plans for gun law reforms that Connecticut Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal were hoping to shape.
Murphy, in conjunction with Sens. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was trying to sell the White House on legislation that would expand FBI background checks of potential gun buyers, a measure introduced more than six years ago in response to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, 2012.
Murphy had been optimistic that the bill would be endorsed by Trump and finally win Senate approval.
But on Friday, he said he doubted the background check legislation would move forward.
“I haven’t heard anything directly from the White House in weeks and would be surprised if something happens at this point,” the senator said.
“The White House knows I’m ready to compromise, but they’ve got to be willing to break from the NRA if we are going to do anything real.”
Sen. Chris Murphy
Blumenthal had been working with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on a bill that would provide states with incentives to pass “red flag” laws — like the one first approved in Connecticut — that temporarily remove weapons from those deemed by law enforcement or a court to be a danger to themselves or others.
Unlike Murphy, who said he hasn’t spoken to the White House in weeks, Blumenthal said he and Graham have continued to communicate with White House staff about a federal red flag, or emergency protection order bill.
“I still have hope,” Blumenthal said.
Three months ago, when there were back-to-back mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, leaving 31 people dead, Trump assured the public that he was prepared to take the issue of gun control seriously. “We’re going to come out with something that’s going to be really, very good – beyond anything that’s been done so far,” the president told reporters.
He voiced strong support for background checks “like we’ve never had before,” and other measures, including the red flag initiative.
But according to several reports first published by The Washington Post on Friday, Trump has been counseled by political advisers, including campaign manager Brad Parscale and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, that gun legislation could splinter a political coalition he needs to stick together for his reelection bid, particularly amid an impeachment battle.
According to the Post, Trump believed the background check bill had a problem with “branding” and needed a new name and was then shown polling that gun-control measures could depress turnout among his supporters in the 2020 election.
The Post also said officials from the National Rifle Association made dozens of calls to White House aides, and Trump spoke with NRA chief Wayne LaPierre at least six times.
The White House press office did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
Both Murphy and Blumenthal had multiple conversations with White House staffers and other Trump administration officials, including U.S. Attorney General William Barr, after the twin shootings in Dayton and El Paso. Murphy also spoke directly with the president – and Ivanka Trump — about the issue.
But Murphy’s office said there have been no further conversations since Sept. 24, the day House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced her chamber would initiate an impeachment inquiry.
“I’m still sitting at the table, waiting and ready to negotiate,” Murphy said. “The White House knows I’m ready to compromise, but they’ve got to be willing to break from the NRA if we are going to do anything real.”
Blumenthal said he and Graham “are continuing to work on an emergency risk order bill because lives are at stake.”
“We’re close to the finish line,” he said. “I am going to continue working until there is no hope.”
The Democratic-led U.S. House in February approved two measures that would broaden FBI background checks to all gun sales, measures that went far beyond what Murphy, Toomey and Manchin had been discussing with the White House.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he will not take up any gun legislation that does not meet with White House approval.