In the wake of the Orlando massacre, Democrats in Congress have been pressing the GOP this week to pass a law that would bar people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns. Such a move is supported by 71 percent of the public, according to the Gallup Poll, and Trump said in a tweet Wednesday that he also wanted to stop such individuals from acquiring weapons.
He did not, however, specify how. And while Democrats seized the Senate floor Wednesday to try to win support to pass a watch-list bill, a number of Republicans pointed to an alternative measure that they like better, and that Trump could latch on to.
It's a bill offered by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) that aims to answer concerns about the due process failings of watch lists that have been known to ensnare innocent people. It does that by giving law enforcement officials who would like to block a gun sale just 72 hours to prove to a judge that they have probable cause to show the buyer is a terrorist -- a standard that is arguably so high it would require an individual's immediate arrest.
Democrats argued in their filibuster-style speech-a-thon on the Senate floor that such a scheme would be unworkable.
For the Clinton campaign, the GOP pushback raised the prospect of Trump embracing a popular step, but skittering like a curry-stained stoat into a safe burrow offered by Cornyn.
"Yet again, Donald Trump is trying to soften his tone while likely standing in the way of real progress," said Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon. "When Donald Trump says he wants to block terrorists from getting guns, it would be disappointing but not surprising if he's referring to Sen. Cornyn’s bill, which is nothing more than an NRA-backed smoke screen."
The NRA supports Cornyn's bill.
"This would be another example of Donald Trump trying to deceive the American people by supporting a dangerously flawed NRA bill that would tie the hands of law enforcement agencies — giving officials only 72 hours to show in court, not only that someone is suspected of being involved in terrorism, but that he or she will actually commit an act of terror," Fallon added.
Some Republican senators in tough re-election battles, such as Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey, suggested Wednesday that they would back something tougher than Cornyn's measure, and it's possible Trump could wait to see what endangered Republicans craft.
UPDATE: 5:30 p.m. -- Cornyn scoffed at the Clinton criticism Thursday.
"Observing constitutional rights for American citizens is not a smokescreen," he told HuffPost. "That’s an incredibly ignorant thing for her to say. If anybody can be denied their constitutional rights without due process of law and without the government coming forward and establishing probable cause, it’s simply un-American."
Nevertheless, other Democrats picked up Clinton's "smokescreen" charge and echoed it, saying that if Trump wants to show he intends to stop terrorists from exploiting America's gun laws, he'll voice support for the two measures that Democrats proposed in their takeover of the Senate floor, which are expected to get votes next week. One of those measures would allow the attorney general to bar people from buying weapons if they've been on a terrorist watchlist in the past five years. The other would require background checks for firearms bought at gun shows and via private internet sales.
"Donald Trump -- like the Republicans, he's talking the talk, but he ain't walking the walk," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a sponsor of the background check expansion bill. "The only way Donald Trump can seriously prove he wants to keep guns out of the hands of the terrorists is to convince the NRA to support [our bills]."