(CNN)Republicans are back in Washington, and once again waiting for President Donald Trump to make up his mind.
A month after mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, Republicans are languishing over what to do about background checks and guns, in limbo and stalling to answer questions about where their party stands on making even minor changes to laws that some fear vocal supporters could see as an infringement of their Second Amendment rights.”It would be welcome to see specifically what (Trump) would support,” said Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah. “That would be a feature that would not only inform, but also give some Republicans in elections this year the kind of political support they might need.”In the wake of the violence this summer, Republicans appeared poised to entertain a gun debate once they got back to Washington. With the National Rifle Association seemingly weakened by internal upheaval, GOP aides speculated that the window for action was open if Trump could clearly articulate the party’s next steps. Sen. Patrick Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, began pitching the President early on his bill to expand background checks on commercial sales, and said he talked to the President a half dozen times.But after almost five weeks, Republican rank-and-file and leaders alike are still unsure where Trump will land, and if there will be time and pressure to act when he does. Senators lament that once again, they are in the dark on what exactly Trump wants to do.Read More”The President, in my conversations with him, did not start out with a precise policy prescription that has since evolved. What he started out with was a concern that maybe we could be doing a better job and maybe that involves doing a better job with background checks,” Toomey said. “I don’t think it is talking out of school that the President is not a gun aficionado. He is not someone who grew up in the hunting culture of West Virginia, so he has been asking thoughtful, reasonable questions all along the way.”Asked if Trump was closer to making up his mind, Toomey responded, “I’m not sure.”After meeting with GOP leaders Tuesday, the President wants to review his options later this week about potential proposals to help determine what package the White House will pursue, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.There is still a menu of options the White House is considering, two sources said. One of the sources said the options include improving the National Instant Criminal Background Check System database so failed checks can be reported to state and local law enforcement, cracking down on so-called straw man purchases so people can’t buy guns for others under false names, funding mental health programs, implementing capital punishment for mass murderers and overhauling domestic terror laws.Another source says Toomey’s bill is still a possibility with modifications. So-called “red flag” legislation is on the table as well.It’s unclear which of these options Trump will ultimately endorse. Seeking Trump’s protectionWith Trump’s support, the party would have a shield when hitting a third rail of Republican politics to act on guns. Without it, members fear political ramifications. While Trump might be eyeing his reelection for the White House, rank-and-file senators face reelections in states like Maine, North Carolina and Colorado, places where a debate about guns tests them not only with their base, but also with moderate voters they have to win over in a general election. Members say that in recent years the politics of guns have shifted, but no one is ready to test the theory without the President’s blessing.”There is one school of thought that any action on guns by the President and the Second Amendment folks will just stay home” from the election, one Republican senator told CNN on the condition of background to speak freely about the political considerations. “The other school of thought is we’ve done some things over time that really haven’t done much violence to the Second Amendment. Background checks at gun shows are routinely done now. Why can’t we do background checks on the one-on-one sales?”Republicans have come to learn that Trump’s political protection is only as good as his ability to pick a position and stick to it.”After what happened with the spending bill, in which the President said he would sign and then later did not, you want a commitment,” one Republican senator told CNN.’The debate continues’The White House has stayed mum on where exactly Trump stands since Congress has been back in Washington, despite calls from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for the President to make his priorities crystal clear. In the days after the shooting, Trump said he wanted to pursue rigorous background checks, but over the monthlong recess, his enthusiasm publicly waned and so too did the optimism from aides that something would actually be voted on in September. With only 12 legislative days until a government funding deadline, the focus could soon turn to keeping the government running.On Tuesday, White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland attended a GOP lunch, but according to Republican senators in the room provided no clear outline on what the President wanted Republicans to do to curb gun violence.”The debate continues,” said Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, as he left the meeting.”It was pretty much the same discussion,” said a skeptical Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, as he left the lunch. “Are there any new ideas?”Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, said it was his understanding that White House officials would be drafting a menu of options to present to Trump this week.”It’s a very practical, mechanical matter. Nothing becomes a law without the President’s signature. If he isn’t willing to support it, it isn’t going to happen,” Toomey said.Leadership too is waiting for Trump to have an announcement.”Whatever position (Trump) decides to adopt is really important for most of our members,” Majority Whip John Thune told CNN. “As we shape something, we want to know what is going to be signed into law. We will be hearing more from him throughout the course of the week and that will impact what happens here.”