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Key senators eye bipartisan gun bill deal 'this week'

Negotiators are resuming face-to-face gun talks in the Capitol. Democrat Chris Murphy and Republican John Cornyn both say an agreement is within reach.
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WASHINGTON — The top Democratic negotiator of a package of gun bills prompted by the recent mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, said Monday he hopes to reach a deal with his Republican counterparts this week.

“My hope is that we are able to come to an agreement by the end of the week,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said in an interview Monday. “The discussions have been really positive. I still am hopeful we’ll be able to get a product."

"My goal is to have an agreement by the end of this week. And I don’t think that’s an unrealistic goal,” he said, adding that it may be more of an “outline” than detailed legislative text.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., conducts a rally outside the Capitol to demand the Senate take action on gun safety on May 26, 2022, in the wake of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Texas.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., at a rally May 26 outside the Capitol to demand that the Senate act on gun safety in the wake of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Texas.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images file

Murphy spoke hours before he was set to sit down in a face-to-face meeting in the Capitol with a handful of key negotiators: Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the leading Republican negotiator, and Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

“We’re meeting — working over dinner tonight. And I think we’re making progress,” Cornyn said in an interview Monday. “We’ve been talking and exchanging text messages.”

Cornyn also said an agreement could be reached this week, adding that negotiators “talked about a framework earlier, and I think we’re trying to figure out how to fill in the details.”

During the week after Memorial Day, while Congress was on recess, various groups of senators negotiated the different pieces of the gun package by phone and in virtual Zoom meetings.

Murphy characterized the current bipartisan talks as “more advanced than a week ago” and said the discussions still center on four pillars that have been discussed in the past: background checks, red flag laws, mental health and school security.

“Normally on this issue, two weeks into negotiations, they’re falling apart or they're non-existent,” Murphy added. “I think every day there is more seriousness about getting a product that we can present to our caucuses.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has blessed the negotiations and backed the goal of an agreement this week.

“We’re trying to get a bipartisan outcome here that makes a difference,” he told reporters Monday. “And hopefully, sometime this week, we’ll come together.”

The recent spate of gun violence — from Buffalo, New York, to Uvalde to a weekend shooting in Philadelphia — appears to be moving some lawmakers toward stricter rules.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a key centrist from a rural pro-gun state, now supports raising the minimum age to buy a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21, his spokesperson said Monday.

"There's no red lines. We've got to do something. We've got to start bringing what we call 'gun sense' into America," Manchin told reporters.

But the provision is unlikely to be in a Senate package, as it faces Republican opposition and most likely lacks the necessary 60 votes to defeat a filibuster.

Republicans, wary of offending pro-gun voters who make up part of their base, have emphasized that the problems they are trying to address are mental health and school safety.

To that end, Murphy sought to extend a rhetorical olive branch to Republican lawmakers, categorizing some policies in the negotiations to keep guns away from dangerous people under the umbrella of mental health.

“When you are talking about red flag laws and background checks, you are talking about mental health," Murphy said in the interview. "We’re talking about keeping guns out of the hands of people with criminal records but also people with significant histories of mental health.”

After a meeting in McConnell’s office, Cornyn told reporters: “We’re hovering above the target. That’s as best as I can describe it. No decisions.”

Separately, the actor Matthew McConaughey, a Uvalde native, visited Capitol Hill on Monday to discuss the Robb Elementary School shooting and press lawmakers to pass gun violence measures.

Earlier in the day, McConaughey, who had flirted with running for governor of Texas, published an op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman calling for background checks on all gun purchases, increasing the age to buy assault rifles to 21, establishing a national waiting period for gun purchases and implementing a federal red flag law.

Sources said McConaughey will have dinner Monday with a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House and the Senate to discuss gun violence prevention efforts. Participants include Manchin and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

After he hosted McConaughey and his wife in his office, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., tweeted: "We, like so many others, agree that gun safety reform is needed — I’ll keep working to make that happen."