A law expanding background checks and “red flags” laws are on the table in the Senate after the August recess, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday in a radio interview.
“Those are two items that for sure will be front and center as we see what we can come together on and pass” the Republican leader said on a Kentucky radio station, speaking about a bipartisan bill from Sens. Joe Manchin, D-Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., which would expand background checks to cover online and gun show sales, and the so-called red flag law, legislation that allows courts and police to confiscate firearms from people who are believed to be a threat to themselves or others.
“But what we can’t do, is fail to pass something. By just locking up, and failing to pass, that’s unacceptable,” McConnell said, marking a significant departure from his past handling of gun legislation in the wake of tragedies.
McConnell has been a fierce opponent of gun restrictions throughout his 35-year Senate career, consistently resisting calls for gun control measures after massacres and reaping the benefits of a close relationship with the National Rifle Association. After the Sandy Hook shooting, he campaigned on preventing further gun control measures; after the Las Vegas shooting that left 59 dead, he said it was “premature” to discuss legislation during an ongoing investigation.
McConnell on Thursday said that the president called him “anxious to get an outcome.” But he poured cold water on Democrats’ calls to cancel the recess and address the issue immediately, saying the proposals needed “discussions” before they were brought to the floor.
“If we did that, we’d just have people scoring points and nothing would happen,” he said. “There has to be a bipartisan discussion here of what we can agree on. If we do it prematurely, it’ll be another frustrating experience for all of us and the public.”
Three deadly mass shootings in the span of a a little more than a week — in Gilroy, California; El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio — have drawn renewed attention to the issue of gun control, with activists, hundreds of mayors and Democratic lawmakers urging the Senate to return to the Capitol early from congressional recess to act.
More than 200 House Democrats wrote a letter to McConnell on Wednesday urging him to end the August recess and pass stricter gun control legislation. The Democratic-controlled House passed two background check measures in February.
The House Judiciary Committee is still discussing coming back early from the recess, sources tell NBC News, to work on legislation including “red flag” laws and a law that would prohibit the sale of firearms to people convicted of hate crimes.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi penned a letter to President Donald Trump Thursday, asking that he call the Senate back to Washington if McConnell won’t.
“Mr. President, we have an opportunity to work in a bipartisan way to pass gun violence prevention background checks. However, Leader Mitch McConnell, describing himself as the ‘grim reaper,’ has been an obstacle to taking any action,” she wrote in a letter posted online.
Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, one of more than a dozen Democrats running for the party’s 2020 nomination, is on a six-stop “Caravan for Change” on Thursday from Ohio to Kentucky with the gun-control group Moms Demand Action. They’ll finish with a rally in Louisville — McConnell’s hometown — on Thursday evening.
Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California, a shooting survivor, said she expected House Democrats would even begin picketing the Senate in hopes of urging action.
The sparring Congressional leaders’ remarks come as a top Republican advocating for background checks says the president is engaging with lawmakers on the bill.
Toomey told MSNBC that he has spoken with the president “several times this week” about passing his legislation.
“I am hopeful there’s a different atmosphere now. There’s Republicans taking a second look at this idea of broadening background checks. The president is clearly engaged and interested,” Toomey told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “These are new dynamics, and I want to run with this and see if we can get to the consensus we need.”
Toomey and Manchin first put forth the legislation in 2013 in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The bill failed under opposition from conservatives and the National Rifle Association and has been stalled since.
While the president has publicly signaled interest in expanding background checks — tweeting that perhaps Republicans and Democrats could pair immigration reform and gun control together — he has also tempered expectations.
Hours after tweeting support for background checks, remarks at the White House included no mention of the law. And he told reporters Wednesday, as he departed the White House en route to Dayton and El Paso to visit with families of victims and meet with law enforcement, that when it comes to the will of Congress, “I can only do what I can do.”
The NRA has already begun to fight the new push for gun control.
NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre on Tuesday told Trump that expanding background checks would not be popular among the president’s supporters, a source familiar with the matter confirmed to NBC News. LaPierre put out a statement on Thursday reiterating the group’s opposition to gun control legislation.
“The inconvenient truth is this: the proposals being discussed by many would not have prevented the horrific tragedies in El Paso and Dayton,” he said.
But Toomey said he was optimistic.
“Most of the discussions I’ve had with the president have focused on background checks and the Manchin-Toomey legislation that would require background checks on all commercial sales,” he said. “I think the president has a real interest in this.”
Pressed on whether background checks would prevent future massacres, Toomey said Thursday, “There is no law that will be passed that will guarantee there will be no more massacres.”
But background checks, he said, will help.
Rebecca Shabad, Kelly O’Donnell, Kristen Welker and Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed.
John Bercow makes prime ministers’ lives ‘hell’ by breaking precedent, claims Cameron
DAVID CAMERON has revealed that Commons Speaker John Bercow used to make his “life hell” and was often left baffled by his actions as he made unprecedented decisions to side against the Government.
Barr praised 2017 book that claims colleges unfairly went after male students accused of sexual assault
WASHINGTON — Before being nominated by President Donald Trump to be attorney general, William Barr strongly endorsed a 2017 book accusing colleges and universities of unfairly punishing male students accused of rape.
Barr’s praise for “Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities” by K.C. Johnson and Stuart Taylor, is posted on the book’s Amazon.com page. But during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, Barr was not questioned about the blurb, which suggested men are often railroaded by a politically correct campus “mob.”
In the blurb, Barr praises the book for examining multiple cases where, as he described, “Male students are sacrificed to the mob, with academic leaders happily serving as the hangmen.”
Barr’s professed skepticism about some campus sexual assault claims surfaced after Trump’s call this week for the Justice Department to “rescue” Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, after The New York Times published an excerpt of a new book detailing asexual assault allegation against Kavanaugh while a student at Yale that he had previously denied. The book also includes information about a new allegation.
Several Democratic presidential hopefuls have called for further investigation or for the impeachment of Kavanaugh in light of the allegations.
Barr’s endorsement of the book includes a broadside on the Obama administration’s approach to the issue of campus sexual assault.
During Obama’s presidency, colleges and universities were directed to aggressively pursue sexual misconduct allegations under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans sex discrimination in education. In 2017, the Trump administration ordered those Obama-era protections to be reversed.
“President Obama’s Education Department — promulgating regulations beyond its statutory authority, invoking erroneous data, and fanning the false narrative of a ‘rape culture’ on college campuses — has created a regime of kangaroo justice,” Barr wrote in the blurb.
Kerri Kupec, a spokeswoman for Barr at the Justice Department, declined comment.
The book by Johnson and Taylor — and Barr’s endorsement of it — were part of the administrative record Education Secretary Betsy DeVos relied on to make her decision to roll back the Obama-era rules, according to records ordered released by a judge in response to a lawsuit challenging the rollback. DeVos, not Barr, has led the Trump administration’s effort to change campus sexual assault policy.
Taylor told NBC News that now that Barr is attorney general, “I am hopeful he will help move policy in the direction Betsy DeVos is trying to do,” while acknowledging that many of DeVos’s proposals could easily be undone by a future administration.
The changes include requiring schools to disclose the identity of accusers to alleged assailants and allowing the accused to question alleged victims during campus investigations.
In light of Trump’s recent tweet about the Justice Department and Kavanaugh, it’s unclear Barr has the power to do anything to “rescue” Kavanaugh or any male student accused of sexual misconduct. Most sexual offenses are prosecuted locally, not by the Justice Department, which handles sex trafficking and child exploitation cases.
In an interview, Taylor said Barr had agreed to write a blurb for his book at a time when neither expected Barr would serve in the Justice Department again. Barr was attorney general under President George H.W. Bush from 1991 to 1993.
Barr’s blurb has also raised concerns among some Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who said it should have been raised during his confirmation hearings last January. A spokesman for Judiciary Democrats said they had not been aware of the blurb at the time.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the committee, is among those who say they would have wanted to question Barr about the statement.
Due process is always important, Blumenthal told NBC News, but Barr’s comments are “way over the top.”
Emily Martin, vice president for education and workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center, said Barr’s comments are “incredibly disturbing” coming from someone who is now the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.
His statement “really discounts the experiences of survivors and the challenges they face,” Martin said.
She went on to raise concerns that Barr’s comments would mean his Justice Department would “leave schools less safe, especially for women and girls.”
Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, also members of the committee, agreed that Barr should have been pressed on the matter during his confirmation.
“This statement seems very out of step with the improvements that have been made in recent decades” around how victims of rape are “taken seriously,” said Whitehouse.
Trump and a number of administration officials have come under scrutiny for expressing skepticism about whether females alleging sexual assault should be believed.
In July 2017, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education Candace Jackson told The New York Times that 90 percent of accusations fall into the category of “we were both drunk, we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation.” She later apologized for the comments.
Earlier, DeVos delivered a policy address in which she said “if everything is harassment, then nothing is.”
At least 17 women have accused Trump of inappropriate behavior, including allegations of sexual harassment or assault. Trump has strongly denied the accusations multiple times.
Taylor, the book’s author, said he doesn’t believe Barr’s endorsement of his book has any bearing on how he would pursue prosecution of sex crimes as attorney general.
Taylor said that he and his co-author are “strong critics” of Trump, adding, “I’m quite willing to believe a lot of the accusations against him are true.”
Trump names Robert O’Brien as new national security adviser
President Donald Trump on Wednesday named Robert O’Brien, a State Department official who has specialized in hostage issues, as his new national security adviser.
“I have worked long & hard with Robert,” Trump tweeted. “He will do a great job!”
O’Brien will replace John Bolton, whom Trump fired last week after a string of disagreements.
O’Brien had been on Trump’s list of finalists, and the president had praised him as recently as Tuesday as “fantastic.”
Trump, speaking to reporters in California with O’Brien at his side later Wednesday, said his administration has “had a tremendous track record with respect to hostages.”
O’Brien, for his part, said “it’s a privilege to serve with the president.”
O’Brien was integrally involved in the release of rapper ASAP Rocky by Swedish authorities last month. The rapper had been detained and charged with assault in connection with a June 30 scuffle between his entourage and a 19-year-old man in Stockholm.
Trump had emerged as a vocal supporter of the rapper in the criminal case.
O’Brien had been present in court in Sweden when the rapper’s trial began and had written to Swedish prosecutors urging them to release him.
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As a State Department envoy for hostage affairs, O’Brien led American diplomatic efforts on overseas hostage matters, working closely both with families of American hostages and senior government officials, according to his State Department biography.
Previously, O’Brien was the co-chairman of the State Department’s Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan, for both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. He was nominated in 2005 by Bush and confirmed by Senate to serve as a U.S. representative to the United Nations General Assembly.
The position of national security adviser does not require Senate confirmation.
O’Brien replaces Bolton — who had been one of the most hawkish voices in Trump’s inner circle on a number of issues, including Taliban negotiations and China trade talks — and will be Trump’s fourth national security adviser. His first, Michael Flynn, was in court for a status hearing last week before his sentencing for lying to U.S. officials. Flynn’s successor, Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, said he was retiring after repeated disagreements with Trump.
Bolton, known as a fierce infighter, had few loyal allies internally. He had clashed with many senior members of the administration at times, including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Trump’s announcement comes as his administration deals with a number of international hot spots, including North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and Afghanistan.
The tweet also came just moments after the president vowed to “substantially increase” sanctions on Iran as tensions in the Middle East rise after an attack on a Saudi oil field, and with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo headed to Saudi Arabia to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss the recent attack.
American officials believe the attack originated from Iranian territory and the president tweeted over the weekend that the U.S. was “locked and loaded” in preparation for some sort of retaliatory action.
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