Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin diverged from the Trump administration and Republican line on Thursday in the aftermath of the Florida shooting, when he urged Congress to address gun violence.
"Personally, I think the gun violence — It’s a tragedy what we’ve seen yesterday, and I urge Congress to look at these issues," the secretary said during a House Ways and Means Committee hearing. On Wednesday, a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The hearing was scheduled to discuss the proposed 2019 budget from the White House, but Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., asked Mnuchin if there was "any money in the budget to deal with the proliferation of gun violence?"
"I’m not aware of that level of detail in the budget for me to be the expert to attest on that," Mnuchin started to reply.
"In light of what happened yesterday," Lewis pushed back.
"I will say, personally, I think the gun violence— It’s a tragedy what we’ve seen yesterday, and I urge Congress to look at these issues," Mnuchin said.
But when it came to an actual proposal, Mnuchin had nothing. "I have vast responsibility as Treasury Secretary, but this is out of my lane of responsibility," he said. However, Mnuchin told Lewis that he will be communicating with those in the White House who do have the power to enact change on the matter.
"I appreciate the severity of the tragedy and I will speak to the president and the other Cabinet members," Mnuchin said.
While Mnuchin didn't offer anything concrete, it was certainly a move away from the usual "thoughts and prayers" that Republican lawmakers typically offer the public after tragedies of this nature. But his admittance to his lack of power when it comes to gun laws and advocacy may serve as protection for him against criticism from the right or left. Mnuchin can sympathize with constituents tired of gun massacre after gun massacre with no policy change, yet not be tasked with any follow-through, meaning he also isn't pushing away gun lobby donors either.
In light of Mnuchin pledging to speak to President Donald Trump, Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., had a message for him to pass on. "As important as it is to express our condolences, what's more important is that we vote and we act," he said. "Sec. Mnuchin, you're right, this is not in your province, but it is exclusively in the province of the United States Congress."
"When will we stand up?" Larson continued. "And all is required is that we do our constitutional responsibility and vote, otherwise we are all complicit in what happens increasingly and with devastating impact on our children! What are we as a body? Or an institution, if we're not going to stand up for our children?. . . This nation deserves congress to act."
Whether Trump plans to do something about guns, as one reporter asked after his statement about the school shooting, the president would not say.