By Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Democrats’ first attempt at responding to the 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 debate on difficult questions surrounding hate crimes and gun safety.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. tried to nudge Republicans into taking up a domestic terrorism bill that had cleared the House quickly last week after mass shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and a church in Southern California targeting people of color. He said it could become the basis for negotiation.
But the vote failed along party lines, raising fresh doubts about the possibility of robust debate, let alone eventual compromise, on gun safety measures. The final vote was 47-47, short of the 60 needed to take up the bill. All Republicans voted against it.
“None of us are under any illusions this will be easy,” Schumer said ahead of the vote.
Rejection of the bill, just two days after the mass shooting at Texas elementary school that killed 19 children and two teachers, brought into sharp relief Congress’ persistent failure to pass legislation to curb the nation’s epidemic of gun violence.
Schumer said he will give bipartisan negotiations in the Senate about two weeks, while Congress is away for a break, to try to forge a compromise bill that could pass the 50-50 Senate, where 60 votes will be needed to overcome a filibuster.
A small, bipartisan group of senators who have for years sought to negotiate legislation on guns met Thursday afternoon for the second time searching any compromise that could win approved in Congress.
They narrowed to three topics — background checks for guns purchased online or at gun shows, red-flag laws designed to keep guns away from those who could harm themselves or others, and programs to bolster security at schools and other buildings.
“We have a range of options that we’re going to work on,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who is leading the negotiations. They broke into groups and will report next week.
Murphy has been working to push gun legislation since the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 children and six educators. He was joined Thursday by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and others. Collins, a veteran of bipartisan talks, called the meeting “constructive.”
What is clear, however, is that providing funding for local gun safety efforts may be more politically viable than devising new federal policies.
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina exited the meeting saying there is no appetite for a federal red flag law or a so-called yellow flag law — which permits temporary firearm confiscation from people in danger of hurting themselves or others, if a medical practitioner signs off.
But Graham said there could be interest in providing money to the states that already have red flag laws or that want to develop them. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who circulated a draft at the meeting, will work with Graham on a potential compromise.
“These laws save lives,” Blumenthal said.
Toomey told reporters that Manchin-Toomey background check bill — which failed in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting a decade ago — still does not have enough support. Manchin said he hoped this time would be different.
“I can’t get my grandchildren out of my mind. It could have been them,” Manchin said.
None of the lawmakers could say definitively if any of the efforts will be able to win all Democrats and have the 10 Republican senators it needs to advance past a GOP-led filibuster.