Congress to Consider Domestic Terrorism Bill Following Buffalo Shooting

Hello. We’re grieving with the people of Buffalo this week. White supremacy is satanic, and it is deadly.

House to Take Up Domestic Terrorism Measure

Following the white supremacist attack in Buffalo that killed 10 people over the weekend, lawmakers in the House are planning to vote soon on a bill to expand domestic terrorism prevention efforts.

The legislation would create dedicated domestic terrorism offices in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Justice, and the FBI. The unit at DHS would be responsible for “monitoring and analyzing” domestic terrorism, according to the legislation, and the office at the FBI would investigate domestic terror activity. The office within the Justice Department would spearhead prosecuting instances of domestic terrorism.

The bill also mandates unclassified reporting from government agencies on the threats posed by white supremacists. The reports would contain details on the number of domestic terror incidents in recent years and related investigations by law enforcement agencies, and an examination of “White supremacist and neo-Nazi infiltration of Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies and the uniformed services.” 

On that front, the legislation would also establish an inter-agency task force, including the attorney general and the defense secretary, among other officials, to examine and push back on white supremacist and neo-Nazi influence in the armed services and federal law enforcement. Within a year, that task force would be required to submit a report on its findings to Congress.

The measure, first introduced by Rep. Brad Schneider in 2017, has support from most Democrats.

“The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act is what Congress can do this week to try to prevent future Buffalo shootings—to prevent future California shootings, future El Paso shootings, future Charleston shootings, future Pittsburgh shootings, future Wisconsin shootings,” Schneider said on Monday. “We need to ensure that federal law enforcement has the resources they need to best preemptively identify and thwart extremist violence wherever the threat appears.”

But Republicans and some progressives have raised concerns that new authorities could infringe on Americans’ civil liberties.

In 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union pushed against an earlier version of the measure in a letter to lawmakers. 

The ACLU said that the agencies in question “have long used the domestic terrorism framework to monitor and investigate people of color and other marginalized communities, rights activists who dissent against government policies, and those with views agencies deem controversial.”

“Although the Act is well intentioned, it would entrench long-standing problems with domestic terrorism frameworks, and result in the further unjustified and discriminatory surveillance, investigation, and prosecution of people of color and other marginalized communities, including those engaged in First Amendment-protected activities,” the organization wrote at the time.

The legislation still passed the House without much debate in 2020—members approved it by voice vote, a process used for quick passage of uncontroversial bills. It did not advance in the Senate. After Schneider reintroduced the bill in 2021, Republicans in the House have displayed more opposition to it. In April of this year, every GOP member of the Judiciary Committee voted against it. They raised fears that the bill could lead to targeting parents who object to certain school curricula or people who refuse medical vaccinations.

Top Republicans on Tuesday showed no signs of supporting the legislation.

“It mandates reports that haven’t been asked for, creates more bureaucracy where ample exists, and has a chilling effect that will limit state and local law enforcement’s efforts to recruit and retain qualified candidates,” said Rep. Tom Cole, the top Republican on the Rule Committee.

During the panel’s meeting Tuesday morning, Rules Committee Chair Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, emphasized the need to respond to growing white supremacist and white nationalist extremism.

“This is about what kind of country we want to be,” he said. “This should really get strong bipartisan support on the floor. I hope that’s what happens.”

A Bipartisan Shooting Alert Bill

We’ve seen it unfold this way far too often: Communities affected by active shootings will be informed of it in bits and pieces, usually with tweets from local police alerting residents and urging them to stay away from the area.

It’s not a particularly effective system, and it can leave many people unaware of a deadly attack unfolding blocks away from them. A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill earlier this year aimed at developing emergency alert systems for these moments, similar to Amber alerts.

“Active shooter incidents put a huge strain on our law enforcement officials,” the members said when they introduced the measure. “Among the many challenges facing law enforcement during these crises is preventing additional victims from unknowingly walking into the line of fire. Law enforcement and other independent review commissions have urged improvements in emergency communications systems.”

There are some bleak reasons active shooting alerts would need to be handled differently than other emergencies: The warnings would have to be silent, for example, because noise might reveal the locations of people hiding from a shooter.

The legislation, called the Active Shooter Alert Act, would create a role within the Justice Department to coordinate active shooter alert efforts nationwide. The coordinator would work with state and local governments to build out active shooter procedures and to develop communication systems for mass alerts. It includes $2 million in fiscal year 2023 to carry out those goals. 

“This is a common sense, straightforward bill that will save lives,” Rep. David Cicilline, one of the bill’s lead sponsors, said over the weekend.

On the Floor

The House is set to approve a slate of homeland security and cybersecurity bills this week, among other items. House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro is also finalizing an emergency supplemental funding bill intended to boost supplies of baby formula amid a shortage. 

House leaders are also expected to bring forward a bill that failed earlier this year for another attempt at passage: The measure would name a courthouse in Tallahassee after the late Joseph Woodrow Hatchett, who was the first black justice on the Florida Supreme Court. (We wrote about that bill and the spontaneous pushback to it from House Republicans here. It is likely to pass this week because it is being considered under normal House rules, meaning the threshold for passage will be lower this time around—a simple majority rather than two-thirds majority.)

A full list of bills the House may consider this week is available here.

The Senate has resumed consideration of a nearly $40 billion Ukraine defense aid package that passed the House last week. Senators are also expected to consider several judicial nominees.

Key Hearings 

  • NASA Administrator Bill Nelson is testifying before House appropriators this morning on the space agency’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Information and video here.

  • The House Judiciary Committee is meeting this morning to debate potential reforms to emergency presidential powers. Information and video here.

  • Members of the House intelligence panel are holding a hearing this morning on unidentified aerial phenomena. Information and video here.

  • A Senate Judiciary subcommittee will meet Wednesday afternoon for a hearing on preventing gun violence. Information and livestream here.

  • A House Homeland Security subcommittee will meet Wednesday afternoon to examine the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to combat the opioid crisis. Information and livestream here.

  • The Congressional-Executive Commission on China will hold a hearing Wednesday night to receive testimony from survivors of China’s genocide in Xinjiang. Information and livestream here.

  • Senators on the Rules and Administration Committee will meet Thursday morning for a hearing on administration of the upcoming November elections. Information and livestream here.

Of Note

McConnell leads Senate GOP delegation in trip to Kyiv to meet Zelensky

Spy agencies grapple with how much to share at UFO hearing

Biden administration lifting some Trump-era restrictions on Cuba

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