Lawmakers return to Capitol Hill Monday for the first time since late July. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 9 (UPI) -- For the first time since July 29, both houses of Congress returned to Capitol Hill Monday, formally ending a recess period that saw numerous calls for legislative change -- particularly with regard to gun violence.
Lawmakers face a slate of new business, but perhaps none more prominent or pressing than the rising trend of shooting attacks in the United States. While Congress was away for five weeks, multiple attacks in Texas, Ohio and California killed dozens of Americans.
After each attack, calls grew to reconvene lawmakers to take up new gun control legislation. In the Senate, Republican leader Mitch McConnell was repeatedly asked to call back the upper chamber to consider a House bill that would strengthen background checks for firearms purchases. McConnell declined, saying he first needed approval from President Donald Trump.
"If the president is in favor of a number of things that he has discussed openly and publicly and I know that if we pass it, it will become law, I'll put it on the floor," McConnell said.
That prompted a letter to Trump Monday from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, asking for his support on gun control legislation.
"We have a responsibility to make our schools, shopping centers, houses of worship and other public places safer," Schumer and Pelosi wrote in the letter. "The American people are crying out for their elected representatives to stop the epidemic of murder and mayhem that is shattering families across the country."
The letter cites Trump's remarks after shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, last month, in which he favored stronger background checks -- despite opposition from the National Rifle Association.
"We implore you to seize the moment when your leadership and influence over Republicans in Congress on the issue of guns is so critical," the Democratic leaders wrote.
The Democrat-led House is planning news conferences, a forum and floor speeches to pressure the Senate take up the bill. The House judiciary committee said it will consider three new bills that would prevent people convicted of hate crimes from purchasing guns, ban high-capacity magazines and create incentives for states to pass red flag programs.
"There are bills ready to go that will reduce deadly mass shootings," California Sen. Dianne Feinstein tweeted Sunday. "Enough is enough. We can't wait any longer. President Trump and Senate Republicans need to stand up to the NRA and take action to save lives."
A bipartisan group of senators have been working with the White House and talking with other lawmakers to find common ground on the divisive issue.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins said gun reform should be taken up this month that expands background checks, creates more "red flag" laws and preventing stray purchases where people buy guns for someone else.
Congress is also expected to take up trade -- particularly the new agreement among the United States, Canada and Mexico, which has yet to receive congressional approval.
House Democrats say they're working with the Trump administration about certain concerns with the pact, but proponents hope Congress will vote on the deal in the fall.
Congress also faces another deadline to pass necessary spending legislation to keep the government running. Both chambers must approve them by the end of September. The House has already done so for most, but the Senate has not. The upper chamber plans to begin evaluating the spending bills this week.
Other topics expected to receive lawmakers' attention include the cost of prescription drugs and whether Democrats will want to open formal impeachment proceedings against Trump.
Monday, the president marked the return by encouraging House Republicans to allow heads of committees to serve for longer than six years.
"[The limit] forces great people, and real leaders, to leave after serving," he tweeted. "The Dems have unlimited terms. While that has its own problems, it is a better way to go. Fewer people, in the end, will leave!"