02:00 - Source: CNN
Tapper calls out Republicans who declined interview after shootings
Washington CNN —  

As the nation reels from a weekend of two major mass shootings, the response from Republicans in Washington has been muted.

Here’s one reason why: Republican lawmakers aren’t even in Washington. Congress went into its August recess at the end of last week, meaning members are back in their home districts, on vacation with their families, or participating in congressional delegations to other countries – in other words, far from reporters on Capitol Hill asking questions about how the federal government should respond.

But, in a news cycle where one tweet or one gaggle with the President can redefine the focus of the nation, it’s not clear how a sustained conversation about gun violence will still be waiting in Washington when members return in September. Nor is it likely that they’ll hear anything in their district over the next month to make them want to have one.

Their removal from the politics-media machine of Washington is hard to overstate.

One of the effects of last year’s midterm election is that Republicans who represented suburban voters more amenable to moderate restrictions on firearms are no longer in office. Today’s House Republican conference is smaller, more rural and more resistant than ever to such proposals.

A push from Democratic presidential candidates and the national media for gun-control legislation will almost certainly spark an equal and opposite reaction from gun owners. As GOP members meet their constituents at town halls and local festivals on the eve of the fall hunting season, it’s not hard to imagine a refrain from red district voters that giving an inch for federal background checks won’t be the end of what gun-grabbing liberals want.

Instead, expect Republicans to follow President Donald Trump’s lead.

Trump sets the tone

In his remarks at the White House Monday, Trump set the tone. While earlier in the day he tweeted he’d like to find a way to advance background check legislation, in his televised address, he made no mention of a background check proposal that stalled in the Senate in 2013 in large part because of Republican opposition. Trump barely talked about guns.

He noted, instead, that it’s people, not machines, that kill people. He offered a smattering of proposals, including curbing the glorification of violence in video games, reforming laws governing mental health, and implementing red-flag laws to keep guns out of the hands of people identified as risks.

It’s this spirit of focusing on preemptively stopping potential shooters, not curbing firearms themselves, that Republicans have repeated for years following mass shootings.

There has been some warming to at least one of the President’s ideas among Republicans on Capitol Hill.

“I have reached an agreement with Senator Blumenthal to create a federal grant program to assist and encourage states to adopt ‘Red Flag’ Protection Order laws to timely intervene in situations where there is an imminent threat of violence,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who said he spoke with Trump Monday morning.

A senior GOP aide told CNN on Monday the decision to adopt anything Trump proposes ultimately comes down to the majority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell.

And that’s another reason new gun restrictions aren’t likely: The United States Senate. McConnell has so far refused to bring up proposals that have already passed the Democratic House. The Republican leader’s intransigence is only likely to harden as the calendar inches closer to the 2020 election.

Even if McConnell relented, it’s unclear there would be enough support in the Senate to pass anything. Numerous mass shootings over the past several years – including one of the most devastating at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut in 2012 – haven’t changed the Republican calculus on this.

On Monday, Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, on a press call with reporters, said that he had talked to McConnell about his 2013 background check legislation Monday morning, a bill that would have expanded checks at gun shows and online, but refused to say if McConnell would allow a vote on the bill.

What about the rhetoric?

What is perhaps more problematic for Republicans is the apparent motivation of the El Paso shooter, who penned a lengthy manifesto espousing anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiments. The shooter claimed, among other things, that his forthcoming attack was “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

Trump has repeatedly referred to illegal immigration by Latinos across the Southern border as an “invasion.”

And that’s where things get tricky for elected Republicans. The shooting in El Paso comes not long after some recent racist comments from the President – including encouraging four Democratic House members of color to go back to their “home” countries just two weeks ago and referring to the majority-black city of Baltimore as “rat infested.”

But Republicans aren’t likely to address Trump’s rhetoric on immigration and race as part of the cause of the El Paso shooting. Doing so would not only be unproductive but risks inciting the wrath of the President, who after condemning “racism, bigotry, and white supremacy” in his Monday remarks did not grapple with his own comments.

“Trump is trying to steer the conversation toward gun safety and away from more uncomfortable areas,” said Michael Steel, a former aide to Republican House speaker John Boehner.

One former senior Republican congressional aide said there has been a shift among many elected officials in the party in expressly condemning white nationalism. “This feels like this is an important moment in addressing our rhetoric,” said the aide. “Hopefully this causes people to think twice before tweeting.”

Will that shift extend to Trump himself? That may be the only possibility Republicans in Washington believe is less likely than passing significant gun control laws.