Legislative Expectations On Guns
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
And there's also been reaction from Washington on Epstein's death. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is with us. Hey there, Sue.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the conspiracy theories around Epstein have really come from the top. We heard from the president last night on Twitter.
DAVIS: I mean, if you spent any time on Twitter yesterday, you saw that these conspiracy theories around his death just exploded on the Internet. And that went all the way up to President Trump, who retweeted conspiracy theories saying that his death may have involved Bill Clinton, who, like the president, knew Jeffrey Epstein. I think this matters for two reasons. One, it certainly plants seeds of doubt, especially in the minds of the president's supporters, of any forthcoming DOJ investigation, that it can't be trusted, if the president himself is questioning what happened there. I also think Senator Marco Rubio, who sits on the Intelligence Committee, made sort of a smart broader point is that, as you saw how the embrace of these theories exploded on the Internet, it really did illustrate why America right now is so vulnerable to foreign interference and disinformation campaigns because there's a very receptive audience.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So give us the other reaction coming from Washington because it was pretty strong.
DAVIS: Well, the attorney general put out a statement saying in his words he was appalled by it. They announced that they're going to do inspector general investigations. On Capitol Hill, there was also just a furious response. Senator Ben Sasse - he's from Nebraska - the Epstein investigation was something he questioned Barr about during his confirmation hearing, pressing him to make sure that he was brought to justice. And he put out a statement saying heads need to roll at the Justice Department.
Among Democrats, Lois Frankel, who's a member from Florida where Epstein had been accused of crimes as well, she said she wants the House Oversight Committee to investigate not just the non-prosecution deal but, like, how this happened at this prison. So I do think when they come back in the fall, there's going to be a more push for answers here and oversight and accountability to how this was allowed to happen.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's talk about the issue that's really been preoccupying Congress, even on their August recess, whether or not there will be any legislation on guns in the wake of last weekend's shootings in El Paso and Dayton. The president has at least appeared to be weighing the options. What is he signaling? Do we know?
DAVIS: President Trump is so hard to nail down on this issue because at times, and like he is right now, he does seem to signal a real willingness to take on the gun lobby and to tackle more meaningful gun legislation. He has shown now an indication that he might support background checks or things called red flag laws that would make it harder for people to buy guns if their family or law enforcement thought they were in crisis. But at the same time, when Democrats passed a background check legislation bill early this year that would have done things like close loopholes that let the Charleston shooter buy a gun, he said he would veto it.
So it's hard to know and anticipate where he will be, and I think that's something Republicans are really nervous about and looking for because they certainly don't want to take any votes on legislation the president won't support. But if the president won't say what he'll support, they're not sure what they can vote for.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And I think that's what Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has been grappling with. He does not intend to bring the Senate back into session he has signaled. But he has expressed that he's open to considering the idea of expanded background checks. So what kind of commitment could we see from him on the new legislation? 'Cause he's the other part of this, right?
DAVIS: He is. But he also made a point when he put out a statement saying they would look at this is that he's still a very strong supporter of the Second Amendment, so I wouldn't expect a big fundamental change here. I think what he's saying is if they can present - and he's directed Republican chairmen to work with Democrats - if they can come up with something that can pass with overwhelming support in the Senate, he would be willing to bring it to the floor. But, again, he's not promising an outcome. He's just promising a debate.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So that's the Republicans. But briefly, Sue, the Democrats are really talking about this, not just as a gun debate but also as a hate crime, right?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. It wasn't just about guns. It was about race, and they have noted that there's things that they could look for this fall in spending bills to beef up how the government spends its resources to combat white supremacy. And that might be a different kind of debate we hear this fall.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. That's NPR's congressional correspondent Sue Davis. Thank you so much.
DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.