Sen. Mitch Mconnell set up Senate GOP negotiations on new gun legislation in the wake of Uvalde to fail miserably, knowing he'd need all ten Republicans to overcome a filibuster. But putting Texas Sen. John Cornyn in charge, the GOP's Number Two in the Senate, was a brilliant move, because now Mitch looks reasonable, and Cornyn, arguably the only person who could reasonably run against Mitch for leadership next year, looks like an incompetent negotiator compared to McConnell.
Frustration inside the Senate GOP conference is boiling among conservatives at the way Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) is handling the bipartisan gun reform negotiations — putting the man who aspires to succeed Mitch McConnell as Republican leader in a political jam.
Why it matters: Some senators are viewing these negotiations as a test case for how Cornyn would fare as lead negotiator for the party should he replace McConnell one day.
Driving the news: Multiple sources with direct knowledge say the GOP senators who are uneasy about the negotiations include Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), among others.McConnell has thus far supported Cornyn's efforts, saying he's "comfortable" with the bipartisan gun deal and will support the bill if it "ends up reflecting what the framework indicated."
Behind the scenes: At Tuesday's private Senate GOP lunch, several senators questioned Cornyn about the proposal and pushed for specific details about what the legislation would entail.Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) "very vocally" requested more information from Cornyn on the substance of the framework. Those requests were rebuffed, three sources familiar with the lunch told Axios.
The proposal to incentivize state red flag laws has been especially unpopular among conservatives. Sens. Crapo, Cruz and others have voiced their concerns to leadership about it potentially becoming too easy to strip Americans of their right to bear arms.
And Scott, the chairman of the Senate Republicans' campaign arm, feels snubbed by the bipartisan group after holding early talks with Cornyn and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
"No one's telling me anything. I've just asked for the text, and I haven’t gotten anything," Scott told Axios. "My whole goal is that we shouldn't be rushing something like this through; we should take our time."
Hawley told Axios he's "not a big fan of the framework as it's been announced ... I'm tracking what's been reported in the press. I understand the framework is shifting. But you know, I'm not a huge fan of it.""I'm at a disadvantage because I'm not part of the negotiations," Hawley added. "I don't know where they are. All I know is what I read secondhand from you all."
Between the lines: Several senators feel they've been shut out of the negotiating process and kept in the dark about crucial details, and will be asked to take a politically tough vote without enough time to digest the bill.One GOP senator, speaking to Axios on the condition of anonymity to be candid about his concerns, branded Cornyn's approach: "Shut up, and vote."
"There's considerable unhappiness in the conference that we seem to be approaching a bill that will unite all the Democrats and divide the Republicans," said another senior Republican with direct knowledge of the internal talks.
The senior Republican mentioned that Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) asked Cornyn during one lunch, "Are we focusing on gang violence and inner-city murders? And the response was, 'No, we're not focusing on that' ... And more than a few of us wondered why the hell not?"
"It would be prudent, and I think Sen. Cornyn knows this … it would be prudent to give senators plenty of time to read the bill and research the issues," Kennedy told Axios.
"We're being told that Schumer wants to vote next week," the senior Republican added. "And that the Republicans engaged in negotiations are fine with that. Even though nobody's seen bill text, nobody's seen anything more than a couple of bullet points on a one-pager."