WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats’ first attempt to respond to back-to-back mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, failed in the Senate on Thursday as Republicans blocked a domestic terrorism bill that would have opened up debate on difficult issues surrounding hate crimes and gun safety.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y. tried to push Republicans to pass a domestic terrorism bill that was quickly approved by the House last week after mass shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and a Southern California church targeting people of color. He said that could become the basis of the negotiation.
But the vote fell short almost along party lines, raising new doubts about the possibility of a robust debate, let alone a possible compromise, on gun safety measures.
“None of us are under any illusions it will be easy,” Schumer said ahead of the vote.
The rejection of the bill highlighted the prevalence of mass shootings in the United States, with the Senate in the unusual position of struggling to deal with the violence – voting on legislation responding to the shootings in Buffalo and California that were overshadowed by yet another massacre, this time at a Texas elementary school that killed 19 children and two teachers.
Schumer said he would allow bipartisan negotiations in the Senate about two weeks — the next 10 days, while Congress is away for a recess — to try to forge a compromise bill that could pass the Senate 50-50, where 60 votes will be needed to overcome an obstruction.
A small bipartisan group of senators who have been seeking to negotiate gun legislation for years huddled on Capitol Hill Wednesday night. But so far, there seemed to be little appetite among Republicans for major changes. Schumer acknowledged the “deep skepticism” of Democrats that a deal could be struck.
“Hopefully there’s a growing momentum,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who is leading the negotiations. “But I’ve failed many times before.”
Murphy has been working to pass gun legislation since the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 children and six educators.
The Democrats’ best hopes for a legislative partner could be Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who pushed through a modest bill to encourage compliance with background checks on gun purchases during the Trump era. after the devastating 2017 shootings in his state.
Cornyn said he and Murphy have been in contact and talked about these issues for a long time to try to find a compromise. “Maybe it’s an impulse,” he said of Uvalde’s attack.
Still, Cornyn warned that “restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens will not make our communities or our country any safer.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., told reporters that a bill he’s been working on for a decade to expand background checks for gun sales still doesn’t have enough support to advance to the Senate. “I couldn’t count 60 at this point,” he said, “but we’ll get there.”
It seems increasingly unlikely.
In a sign of GOP resistance to shifting the debate to gun policy, several Republican senators took the floor Thursday to discuss other topics — immigration, border security and, in the case of the Republican leader of the Senate Mitch McConnell, the country’s fight against inflation.
The domestic terrorism bill that failed Thursday dates back to 2017, when Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., first proposed it after mass shootings in Las Vegas and Southerland Springs, Texas. .
The House passed a similar measure by voice vote in 2020, only to languish in the Senate. Since then, Republicans have backfired on the legislation, with only one GOP lawmaker backing its passage through the House last week.
“What had broad bipartisan support two years ago, because of the political climate that we find ourselves in … or to be more specific, the political climate that Republicans find themselves in, we are not in a position to oppose domestic terrorism,” Schneider said. , who took office following the Sandy Hook school shooting, told The Associated Press.
Republicans say the bill does not place enough emphasis on combating domestic terrorism committed by far-left groups. Under the bill, the agencies would be required to produce a joint report every six months that assesses and quantifies domestic terrorism threats nationwide, including threats posed by white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups.
Proponents say the bill will close gaps in intelligence sharing between the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security and FBI so officials can better track and respond to the growing threat of white extremist terrorism.
Those efforts reportedly focus on spreading racist ideology online like the replacement theory, which investigators say motivated an 18-year-old white shooter to drive three hours to carry out a racist shooting and broadcast live there. two weeks in a crowded supermarket in Buffalo. Or the animosity against Taiwanese parishioners at a church in Laguna Woods, California, that resulted in the shooting death the next day of one man and the wounding of five others.
While Schneider acknowledged that his legislation may not have stopped these attacks, he said it would ensure these federal agencies work together to better identify, predict and stop threats.
Under current law, the three federal agencies are already working to investigate, prevent and prosecute acts of domestic terrorism. But the bill would require each agency to open offices specifically dedicated to these tasks and create an interagency task force to combat white supremacist infiltration in the military.
GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky criticized this aspect of the bill, calling it “an insult to every police officer in this country” and an “insult to every member of our armed forces.”
The proposal would stop short of creating new federal laws needed to prosecute domestic terrorism the same way the United States prosecutes attacks inspired by foreign groups. It would not create new criminal offenses or new lists of designated domestic terrorist groups. Nor would it give law enforcement additional investigative powers.
But supporters say it would be an important way to help the government broadly assess, for the first time, the volume of domestic terrorist attacks and threats in the United States.
“That alone isn’t going to do much to directly address the threat of domestic terrorism, but to me it’s like the first step,” said Mary McCord, who served as the Department of National Security’s top national security official. Justice in the Obama administration and in the early Trump era.
Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.
Read more about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/school-shootings