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Senate races to craft bipartisan gun bill this week — and runs into obstacles

Senators are hoping to pass legislation next week before a scheduled July 4 recess.
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WASHINGTON — Sen. John Cornyn, the leading Republican negotiator of a bipartisan agreement to combat gun violence, said Monday that the 10 GOP senators who signed onto the framework are "rock solid" behind the cause.

But winning their support for the broad contours of a deal is now looking like it was easy part. Keeping their support intact for the eventual legislation will be much harder.

Senators are now racing to finish writing the bill this week in hopes of passing it next week before a scheduled July 4 recess — and they're running into complicated challenges.

The high-wire act facing them requires writing a bill that can satisfy Democrats’ demand to take meaningful strides without alienating Republicans, who are deeply sensitive to fears that any sort of action could cause a weakening of gun rights. The goal of GOP leaders is to get about half their 50-member caucus on board with the bill.

The biggest hurdles so far are "red flag" provisions — specifically, assuring due process before gun rights are stripped from dangerous individuals — and background checks for Americans aged 18 to 21 that open the door to accessing juvenile records.

“The devil's in the details,” said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, one of the 10 GOP signatories to the framework. “I have a feeling it’s going to be a challenge.”

"The big question is about the due process under red flag laws. That will be a particularly difficult area," Romney said in an interview. "And then, likewise, the access to juvenile records will be a difficult piece of work, because states have different laws with regards to that eliminating juvenile records. And so how to deal with those differences will be a draft person's nemesis."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who is co-writing the red flag language with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he has worked on the issue for four-and-a-half years and understands the challenges.

"There are going to be some complexities here. We haven't drafted a statute like this before. Lindsey and I have drafted several statutes, but not one that will get 60 or 70 votes," he said. "I feel very good about Lindsey and I landing a red flag statute."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., whose support could make or break the bill’s prospects of defeating a GOP filibuster, sounded positive when asked if the text could be finished this week.

“Looks like we’re headed in the right direction,” he told NBC News.

Other difficulties could arise, however, when lawmakers seek to clarify who must register for a Federal Firearms License, which would require background checks on buyers, and tackle the so-called boyfriend loophole — two issues that have been sticking points in previous legislative efforts.

"We close the boyfriend loophole. This is an egregious loophole in our law that allows for men who are convicted of assault against their girlfriends to continue to buy weapons," said Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, the leading Democratic negotiator of the bipartisan deal. "Even though if you committed the same crime against your spouse, you would be prohibited from buying weapons."

Cornyn said he hopes to complete the bill text this week and give Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the time to hold a vote next week. He didn't express an opinion on whether there should be amendments, saying only: "I want to pass the bill."

Asked how important the National Rifle Association's position would be, Cornyn responded: "I don't think any single organization is going to control the outcome."

Another unsettled issue is the cost. Two sources briefed on the Senate framework said lawmakers expect the bill to end up costing between $15 and $20 billion.

But a Cornyn aide downplayed that figure, saying it's unknowable at this time because the bill hasn't been written yet.

It is also unclear how many Republicans will support the bill, with many of them saying they will wait for the text to be released before they make a decision.

“I’m very encouraged by it, yes,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters. “They’re very reasonable, but you’re going to have to see what the text says.”

“I just need to see the details of it. I’m being open minded and looking at it,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said. “I congratulate them for finding a framework, that’s good work.”

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said: “I’m open to doing something...if it doesn’t violate the Second Amendment, and I’m going to check that."

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., said she’s “feeling great, we’re making great progress,” and added that she believes more than 10 Republicans will sign onto the bill.