WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that Democrats are engaging in "theatrics" over gun control legislation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned that "people are dying" because the Senate leader refuses to act.
After a summer of devastating mass shootings, Congress appears no closer to approving legislation to curb gun violence as President Donald Trump wavers on what kind of bill he wants the lawmakers to send for his signature.
"Lives are at stake," Pelosi told reporters, visibly shaken by questions asking if the House could have done more.
"Don't ask me what we haven't done. We have done it," Pelosi said. "If you are annoyed with my impatience it's because people are dying because Senator McConnell hasn't acted. Why don't you go ask him if he has any regrets for all the people who died because he hasn't acted?"
McConnell refuses to vote on a House-passed bill to expand background checks for gun purchases because he says it's not at all clear the Senate would be able to pass the legislation or Trump would sign it into law.
He said for Democratic leaders, who held a press conference pushing action, "It's all about trying to scare people."
Republican congressional leaders were going to the White House later Tuesday to discuss options as pressure mounts for Congress to act. The White House's legislative director met privately with Republican senators to discuss ideas the administration is considering.
McConnell said the summer's mass shootings "deserve a response." But he's waiting on the White House for next steps and only wants to consider legislation Trump would sign into law. The White House had previously warned it would veto the House-passed background checks bill.
GOP senators, though, say inaction is not a response and are anxious for Trump to take the lead.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who has championed another bill that would expand background checks, told reporters, "It's time to act now."
Toomey has had several discussions with the president over the summer and he said more Republican senators are rethinking their past opposition.
Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, a conservative who is often considered a voice of the caucus, emerged from Tuesday's lunch saying, "Many of us feel like doing nothing is not a satisfactory answer."
McConnell met Tuesday with a bipartisan group of U.S. mayors, including some from cities where mass shootings occurred. The mayors are urging approval of the House bill.
The bill, approved in February, would expand background checks to cover private sales such as one that allowed a Texas shooting suspect to purchase his weapon before killing seven people last month.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors is focusing on background checks as a first step to stem gun violence. A letter signed by 278 mayors from both parties urged Congress to act on the House-passed bill.
"We want some Republicans to do the right thing here and (vote for) something that 90% of the American people say makes the most sense" to prevent gun violence, said Nan Whaley, the Democratic mayor of Dayton, Ohio.
Bryan Barnett, the mayor of Rochester Hills, Michigan, and president of the mayors' conference, said background checks have strong support in his Republican-leaning city.
On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee was meeting to consider other gun bills, including a "red flag" law and a ban on large-capacity magazines.
But Pelosi has privately told House Democrats the House has done their job, and for now they need to put the pressure on McConnell to act.
The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, said McConnell should quit with the words and "put the bill on the floor" for a vote.
"Shame on him," Schumer said. "There are people who died. Shame on him."