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‘Boyfriend Loophole’ Trips Up Gun Talks
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‘Boyfriend Loophole’ Trips Up Gun Talks

Plus: The Senate sends a bipartisan bill for veteran health care to the House.

Good morning and happy Friday.

Gun Bill Talks Enter Pivotal Stage

A bipartisan group of senators continued negotiations this week for the legislative text of a gun violence prevention bill, but they face divisions on a couple of fronts. 

The hurdles have pushed work into the weekend, with senators still hoping to move it on the floor next week.

The primary sticking point, as of Friday morning: barring unmarried romantic partners found guilty of domestic violence from owning weapons. Under current federal law, gun purchases are prohibited for people convicted of violence against individuals they have been married to, lived with, or with whom they have had a child. That ban does not extend to other romantic partners. The gap is known as the “boyfriend loophole.” 

The bipartisan group of senators wants to expand that ban to other dating partners but is having difficulty drafting the language. A history of domestic violence is common in gun violence cases, including mass shootings

A source familiar with the negotiations told The Dispatch Thursday the senators are hung up over the bill’s definition regarding romantic relationships, and how and when to handle the restoration of gun rights for offenders.

After a meeting Thursday afternoon, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said he was frustrated and “not as optimistic right now.” He has suggested the boyfriend loophole section could be dropped from the bill entirely.

North Carolina GOP Sen. Thom Tillis said the group is reviewing various state definitions of intimate relationships to consider in their bill. 

The group announced a broad framework for the legislation last weekend but still had to hash out the details. As we wrote to you on Tuesday, striking agreement on the bill’s language is the most sensitive phase of the talks. It could make or break the bill, which gun violence prevention advocates have heralded as potentially the most significant gun law in more than two decades.

Beyond the boyfriend loophole language, negotiators ran into another challenge this week: how to incentivize states to pass and implement red-flag laws to keep weapons out of the hands of people who represent a threat to themselves or others. Senators have discussed such grant programs after mass shootings for several years, but talks have repeatedly fallen apart amid opposition from gun rights groups.

The sticking point this week was different than due process fears, though. Republicans said they wanted some of the funding to go to states that do not have red flag laws (or are unlikely to implement them in the future). Cornyn told reporters Thursday that he wants the federal grants to also support a variety of crisis intervention programs. He sounded an optimistic note on finding a deal on that topic after a meeting with Democrats.

Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy told reporters Thursday afternoon the senators are drafting the sections of the bill they agree on. He said they need to work through the next 24 hours, “but we are operating as if we’re bringing this bill to the floor.”

January 6 Committee Reveals New Details About Pressure on Pence

The committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol held its third public hearing Thursday afternoon, examining the pressure campaign former President Donald Trump and his allies used against former Vice President Mike Pence in their attempts to overturn the results of the presidential election.

Amid testimony from various Trump-adjacent aides and attorneys, this fact stood out: Trump was aware that the mob had breached the Capitol building when he issued a tweet attacking Pence, which sent members of the crowd into even more of a frenzy.

From my colleague Price’s piece about the hearing, up on the site this morning:

At 2:13 p.m., the mob breached the Capitol building, and Trump was told shortly thereafter. Ben Williamson, an adviser to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and Sarah Matthews, the deputy White House communications director, testified in their depositions that they asked Meadows to tell Trump to tweet or say something to stop the assault on the Capitol. Instead, at 2:24 p.m., Trump tweeted that Pence “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”

Read the full story here.

Senate Passes Health Care for Veterans Exposed to Toxins

Senators approved a bill this week expanding health care access to veterans and helping those exposed to toxic substances in the post-9/11 era.

With a vote of 84-14, the Senate sent the package to the House, where Democratic leaders promised to move quickly on it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday the bill’s passage in the Senate is “an historic victory for America’s veterans, their families and caregivers, and for our nation.”

Passage of the bill came after years of advocacy from veterans groups. It is expected to cost nearly $280 billion over 10 years. 

Most directly affected are veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits during their years of service. The military used the pits to discard waste, and exposure to them has been linked to dozens of adverse health conditions. Military Times has a helpful breakdown of the legislation. According to the publication, as many as 20 percent of veterans living in the United States could receive new health coverage and disability benefits under the bill once it is signed into law:

Individuals would receive disability benefits if they contract any type of the following cancers: head, neck, respiratory system, gastrointestinal system, reproductive system, lymphatic system, kidney, brain, skin or pancreas.

Individuals would also receive disability benefits if they contract any type of the following ailments: asthma, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, constrictive bronchiolitis, emphysema, granulomatous disease, interstitial lung disease, pleuritis, pulmonary fibrosis, sarcoidosis, chronic sinusitis, chronic rhinitis or glioblastoma.

Read more here.

Romney Pitches Family-Friendly Tax Credit Plan

Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney is making another attempt at a pro-family monthly allowance for parents, this time with more GOP support than his first effort last year.

Romney announced a new version of his plan for child tax credit payments this week. The bill would send parents up to $350 per month for each child and is similar to the program Democrats set up for about six months in 2021. That expanded child tax credit system lapsed at the end of the year, without enough support for renewal.

Romney’s plan likely will meet resistance among Democrats since it differs from Democrats’ plans in several key ways , including targeting the state and local tax deduction as a funding mechanism and largely requiring recipients to work. Those changes are partly why Romney has won more Republican support, including from Sens. Richard Burr and Steve Daines. Conservatives also back the structure because it aims to encourage marriage and begins the benefits four months before a child’s due date, matching the GOP’s anti-abortion rhetoric with constructive action to help impoverished parents.

Patrick T. Brown wrote a detailed piece for The Dispatch this week laying out how the plan would work. From his article:

Every family that earns at least $10,000 qualifies for the full monthly benefit of $250 per child (with an additional $100 a month for children under 6,) save for those bringing home $400,000 as a couple (or $200,000 for single parents). Parents who don’t earn $10,000 would see their benefit scaled down commensurably, to encourage work-force participation. Families could claim the benefit for up to six children, and could also opt into taking the traditional CTC on their tax returns instead, rather than the monthly payment. 

By setting a single threshold, the revised Romney plan rewards marriage, as two potential workers can tag-team to qualify for the benefit. Less than 1 percent of married couples with kids made less than $10,000 in 2019, according to American Community Survey data. Instead of a sliding scale, the flat threshold avoids penalizing families that have additional children. And the plan is explicitly pro-life, allowing pregnant women to claim the credit four months before their child’s due date.

If the plan is to advance, it will take some serious negotiations within the Senate and with Democratic leaders. It may also be difficult for a compromise to emerge in the coming months as lawmakers prepare for the November midterm elections; action on major bills is often more of a challenge for Congress during election years. Read more about Romney’s proposal here.

Of Note

Haley Wilt is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.