WASHINGTON, DC — After months of negotiations, the effort to reach a bipartisan agreement on gun background checks has ended, a key GOP senator said Wednesday, leaving Democrats with a final option to move forward on House-passed bills that have no chance of passing in the Senate.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas who has been negotiating with Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut to strike a long-shot bipartisan deal on background checks, said on Wednesday that they were “unable to find an agreed-upon outcome” and the talks have ceased.
“Unfortunately we’ve been unable to find an agreed-upon outcome, so basically he suggested to me that there wasn’t any real reason to continue talking right now,” Cornyn said of Murphy, who’s been leading the charge on reaching a bipartisan deal.
Cornyn did signal on Wednesday, however, that he’d be open to revisiting the negotiations, saying: “I’m always available.”
The breakdown in negotiations is significant given that background checks are seen as a more politically attainable policy goal at the federal level with broader bipartisan support in Congress than other gun measures such as reimplementing a federal assault weapons ban or outlawing high capacity magazines. However, even background check legislation was still viewed as a long-shot effort given how deep the partisan divisions are over gun measures of any kind.
Murphy responded on Twitter to Cornyn’s remark on Wednesday, saying he “doesn’t remember it that way,” but he acknowledged that they have not been able to reach an agreement.
“I don’t remember it that way, but it’s true we haven’t been able to get to a proposal that moves the needle. But the good news is that discussions continue with other Republicans,” he tweeted.
CNN has reached out to Murphy’s office for comment. But the timing on the talks, which Democrats have been holding out hope for despite steep odds, potentially winding down is consistent with the Connecticut Democrat’s self-imposed deadline on the negotiations, which he said was likely after the Senate’s Memorial Day recess.
“We’re going to work this work period and try to come to an agreement, but if we come back in June and we don’t have a bipartisan deal then I think we’ve got to move forward on universal or commercial sales,” Murphy said in late May, apparently referring to legislation approved by the House to expand background checks on all commercial gun sales.
In March, the Democratic-led House passed two gun bills, The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021, which would expand background checks for all firearm sales or transfers, and the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021, which would close what’s known as the “Charleston Loophole.” The loophole allows some licensed gun sales to go through before required background checks are done.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, has said the Senate may take up gun legislation during the June work period, saying in a recent news conference that he may “ask the Senate to consider gun legislation” during that time.
Democrats hold a slim 50-50 majority in the Senate and would need significant GOP support to overcome a legislative filibuster. Even though the House-passed gun bills are unlikely to get the 60 votes needed to pass in the upper chamber, Democrats could use the vote to argue that Republicans are obstructing over the issue.