It took a week for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to really say anything of substance about the massacre of fourth graders and their teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, last month. What he said was of course not substantive, but he did acknowledge that lawmakers do have some responsibility and passed that responsibility to his trusty accomplice, Texas Sen. John Cornyn. McConnell also laid down a marker for what he would allow in a bill, and it wasn’t anything about guns. “[W]e might be able to come together,” he said, “to target the problem, mental illness, and school safety.”
With that, the “Cornyn Con” on guns began. America’s Voice coined the ploy to describe Cornyn’s role in scuttling real immigration reform. “What’s the Cornyn Con? The silver-tongued, silver-haired Senator from Texas pretends he wants a breakthrough on immigration reform on his way to scuttling immigration reform. He positions himself as a conservative who wants to make common cause with Democrats, and after igniting hope and attracting positive press, he pulls the rug out on Democrats so he can blame them for failure.”
RELATED: McConnell, Cornyn driven to do absolutely nothing about guns, again
For the past three weeks that’s what Cornyn has been doing, and Democrats—desperate to get anything at all accomplished—have followed along. Two weeks after the shooting, there was talk from Republicans about “rapid progress” on the framework. Cornyn said that they were having a “very constructive conversation about the best response to the horrific events in Uvalde last week,” but made it absolutely clear in a tweet that do anything to restrict guns is “not gonna happen.”
Several days after that, the Senate came back to work after Memorial Day recess with the promise of “intense negotiations” and the prospect of something coming to the floor by the end of last week. Those intense negotiations signaled a massive capitulation to by Democrats to Republicans’ terms. There would be no expanded background checks, no restriction of sales of high-capacity magazines, none of anything that the House had already passed. The promised vote didn’t happen.
Then, finally, last Sunday Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, the majority’s lead negotiator, announced an agreement on a framework—not legislation—that had two elements that might actually do something constructive to keep guns out of dangerous people’s hands, and a few things that fit McConnell’s parameters, mental health, and school safety.
The meaningful parts of the agreement—signed onto by 10 Republicans—including closing the “boyfriend” loophole that allows unmarried people convicted of domestic violence against partners to obtain weapons and imposing a waiting period for underaged buyers by creating expanded background checks on them. The other elements were creating incentives for states to pass red flag laws to allow courts to temporarily seize guns from anyone deemed to be a danger to themselves or others; expanding mental health funding; and money for school security.
Great, says, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a vote by the end of the week. Again. Not so fast, says Cornyn on Wednesday. That agreement for a framework that 10 Republicans—enough to break a filibuster—now might just not get enough Republican votes because two of the things 10 Republicans had signed their names to are now a problem.
One of the things that actually would help keep guns out of the hands of violent people—closing the “boyfriend” loophole—is now all of a sudden something those 10 Republicans don’t want, and they also don’t think it’s a good idea to encourage states to set up systems take guns away from people the courts think could be dangerous. So far they’re holding the expanded background checks on 18-20 year-olds on the back burner. Expect it to be yanked as soon as Cornyn has conned Democrats into dropping the other provisions.
Cornyn has also moved the goalposts. It’s not enough to have 10 Republican senators, he now wants at least 20. He told reporters Wednesday that he wants “70-plus” senators to vote for the bill he’s never going to allow to happen. And his partner in the con, McConnell, came out Wednesday to play his part, telling reporters that he would vote for legislation if it follows the bipartisan framework. The bipartisan framework that Cornyn is in the process of dismantling.
The goal of having legislation to vote on Friday is now basically dead. “We’re meeting again today,” Cornyn said Thursday morning. “I’m starting to get a little concerned, though, that there are a couple of issues that need to be settled before we can reach an agreement.” Then a little later he told reporters that the negotiators were in a “good place” on the red-flag language, the red herring issue.
However, he said, the one provision that would take guns away from dangerous people that 10 Republicans had agreed to in principle might now have to be dropped entirely. “I think that’s one option,” he said.
Meanwhile, from an apparently alternative negotiating room, Murphy told reporters “I think we can work out all of these issues,” he said, and nothing would have to be dropped. Apparently, Cornyn is saying something entirely different to fellow senators than he is to the media, and Democratic senators and staff aren’t reading those stories to find out what is really going on.
The schedule for next week is shortened by Monday’s federal Juneteenth holiday, and then the Senate will be out for two weeks for the July 4th recess. By the time they return, all of the dead from the back-to-back Uvalde and Buffalo will have been buried, and the nation’s attention focused elsewhere.
Until the next one.
And once again, McConnell and Cornyn will have used the Cornyn Con to achieve their aim: Doing absolutely nothing about guns, again.