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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Mitch McConnell's Senate GOP leader strongly hinted Trump was dodging hard choices on guns

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Bloomberg/Al Drago

Stop a moment and listen to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's stance on whether to impose universal background checks for all gun sales.

Basically, he said his plan rests with what President Donald Trump is willing to do.

"I said a few weeks ago that if the President took a position on a bill so that we knew we would actually be making a law and not just having serial votes, I would be happy to put it on the floor," McConnell (R-Ky.) said on a radio program last week.

"The administration is in the process of studying what they are prepared to support, if anything," he said.

Hear McConnell's phrasing: "If anything."

"Actually … making a law."

"If the President took a position."

This implies strikingly that McConnell did not know where the president from his party stood on how to address a long-running hot-button issue.

On Tuesday, the majority leader underscored the point: "We're waiting to see how we can actually achieve something on this issue."

It was as close as a partisan ally comes to hinting at a lack of leadership by his president without starting a feud.

Is McConnell's message now forcing Trump to pay attention and make a proposal — even if it's one that falls short of immediate approval from lawmakers?

On Wednesday, Sens. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said after a 40-minute telephone conversation with Trump that he was engaged and encouraging.

But the president still didn't state support for their background check bill, The Associated Press reported.

There does seem to be bipartisan backing for limited "red flag" laws that would alert local authorities if people fail background checks and set new bars for straw purchases of firearms.

In any case McConnell made it clear that members of his conference — many of whom express strident support of Second Amendment rights — need not stick their political necks out with a risky vote for nothing.

House and Senate Democrats have been calling for McConnell to act.

More than a month ago Trump tweeted ambiguously: "Serious discussions are taking place between House and Senate leadership on meaningful Background Checks. I have also been speaking to the NRA, and others, so that their very strong views can be fully represented and respected.

"Guns should not be placed in the hands of mentally ill or deranged people. I am the biggest Second Amendment person there is, but we all must work together for the good and safety of our Country. Common sense things can be done that are good for everyone!"

Debates over gun restrictions come in spasms. They follow atrocities such as those that occurred in Texas, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, California and elsewhere.

If an upcoming Trump gun proposal draws the same congressional impassivity as his nonstarters on health care, immigration and infrastructure, this debate will continue past next year's national elections.

Most often, legislation will be crafted when lawmakers work around Trump rather than wait for him to lead.

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