The Way Forward for the Senate’s Gun Violence Bill

Good morning. It’s a busy week on Capitol Hill.

Senators are hoping to finalize a gun violence prevention bill, the January 6 committee continues its public hearings, and lawmakers are carrying on talks for a sweeping China competition package.

A Bipartisan Gun Violence Prevention Bill

I’ve been covering Congress since early 2017. In that time, I have watched the same doomed policy debates play out again and again and again after deadly mass shootings. 

Lawmakers discuss expanded background checks for gun purchases, or grant programs to encourage states to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves or others. The talks don’t bear fruit. Republicans are overwhelmingly opposed to most federal gun policy changes.

Rarely, members have rallied around modest plans, like the 2018 Fix NICS law to shore up reporting of legal and mental health information for gun sales background checks. Beyond that, the vast majority of proposals to curb mass shootings have failed to win enough support to become law.

In the aftermath of last month’s brutal shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, a bipartisan group of senators is hoping to break the pattern of congressional inaction.

Over the weekend, 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans announced a plan that would incentivize states to pass red-flag laws, boost mental health resources, school safety funding, and add new scrutiny of weapons purchases to people under age 21. 

“Families are scared, and it is our duty to come together and get something done that will help restore their sense of safety and security in their communities,” the senators wrote. “Our plan saves lives while also protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans. We look forward to earning broad, bipartisan support and passing our commonsense proposal into law.”

It isn’t sweeping or even close to the laws Democrats would pass if they had their way—but, if it succeeds, gun safety advocates say it would become the most significant gun violence prevention measure in more than two decades.

Over the weekend, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy described the plan as “real, meaningful progress.”

Since the horrific 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school that left 20 children and six adults dead in his state, Murphy has worked to build support for revised gun laws.

The bipartisan agreement, he said, “breaks a 30-year logjam, demonstrating that Democrats and Republicans can work together in a way that truly saves lives.”

In a 50-50 Senate, Democrats need at least 10 Republicans to support the plan for it to overcome a filibuster. With 10 Republicans already signed onto the broad outline of the bill, Democrats appear able to meet that threshold, for now. Those numbers could change as the final legislative text is drafted and senators work through the details of the bill. On all kinds of issues, lawmakers often agree on broad frameworks but struggle to find consensus on the text itself. The next few days will be a delicate time for striking balance, as GOP senators begin to face pushback from conservative groups.

The issue is heated. That’s why Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who led the GOP side of the talks, went out of his way to post a list of the gun control ideas that negotiators rejected in their discussions because including them would have ended the bill’s chances.

Cornyn said Monday that the group is eyeing a quick schedule. He hopes the text of the bill will be ready by the end of the week, with the potential for floor consideration at the start of next week.

Republican senators expressed openness to the framework on Monday night, but said they want to see more details.

“Until we get text, it’s hard to say,” said GOP Senate Whip John Thune. “They put a lot of good work into it, but it all comes down to the details.”

House to Advance SCOTUS Protection Bill

After a draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade leaked to Politico in early May, senators quickly coalesced around a bill providing more security to Supreme Court justices and their families. 

It was prescient. Not only have pro-life institutions recently been targeted with violence—apparently by pro-abortion rights groups—but a California man, upset about the potential ruling, also turned himself into police last week near Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s house after planning to kill him.

Senate passage of the Supreme Court security bill came shortly before a two-week congressional recess, and it didn’t move in the House. When members returned and it was even clearer that Supreme Court justices might face increased threats of violence, the bill still didn’t move. Senate Republicans have slammed Democrats for not passing it quickly. House members wanted to make changes to the bill, arguing that it should more directly include Supreme Court employees, like clerks. 

On Monday night, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected that approach, claiming the amendment Democrats wanted was about “sending a message about how proud they were that something leaked out of the Supreme Court.”

“The right bill passed the Senate,” he told reporters. “We’re not going to pass this House bill if it comes over.”

He added that “the security issue is related to Supreme Court justices, not to nameless staff who nobody knows.”

Those staff members aren’t entirely nameless any more, though. In the hours after the draft opinion leaked, sectors of conservative Twitter were widely publicizing the names of clerks they believed could have been behind the leak, without evidence. Some House Democratic aides pointed that out after McConnell’s remarks.

Still, House Democratic leaders seem to have accepted that their changes weren’t going to fly in the Senate. They announced Monday night the chamber will take up the Senate version of the security measure. It is expected to pass as soon as today.

The Second Public January 6 Committee Hearing

Members of the committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol convened Monday morning for their second public hearing to unveil their findings.

The hearing focused on former President Donald Trump’s rejection of the election results, despite being told by people in his inner circle that he lost.

Video testimony from then-Attorney General William Barr was clear: “There was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were,” he said of the effort to overturn the election. “I was somewhat demoralized, because I thought, ‘Boy, if he really believes this stuff—he’s become detached from reality if he really believes this stuff.”

My colleague Price was in the room for the hearing. He has a piece on the site this morning about it:

BJay Pak, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia during most of the Trump administration, said he was asked by Barr on December 4, 2020, to look into an allegation raised by Giuliani about an alleged suitcase stuffed with ballots in Fulton County. In his investigation, Pak found that the “suitcase” was actually a secure lockbox used to store ballots over the course of the counting process. He said the full, unedited video footage that inspired the false allegation shows election workers locking the box and putting it away, thinking they were done for the night, before returning, reopening it, and continuing their work. At no point in that process were any ballots scanned more than once. Pak said FBI interviews of the people in the video confirmed this account.

Al Schmidt, at the time the only Republican on the three-member City Commission of Philadelphia (which manages elections in the city), said that he and his colleagues were also asked to investigate claims of fraud, including Giuliani’s assertion that there were more than 8,000 votes from dead voters. The board found no evidence to support them. After an angry Trump tweeted about him by name, Schmidt began receiving specific, graphic threats toward his family.

Benjamin Ginsberg, a lawyer famous for his work representing George W. Bush in Bush v. Gore, explained the normal process for targeted, post-election litigation—which springs from analysis of credible reports of discrepancies—and contrasted it with the Trump campaign’s scattered approach to the false fraud claims.

Read more here.

The January 6 committee is scheduled to hold one more public hearing this week, on Thursday. Members had previously been expected to meet Wednesday as well as Thursday, but the committee announced Tuesday morning that hearing has been postponed. 

In her closing remarks, Vice Chair Liz Cheney acknowledged Monday’s hearing got into the weeds about the Stop the Steal movement.

“Today’s hearing, Mr. Chairman, was very narrowly focused, and in the coming days you will see the Committee move on to President Trump’s broader planning for January 6,” she said, “including his plan to corrupt the Department of Justice, and his detailed planning, with lawyer John Eastman, to pressure the vice president, state legislatures, state officials and others to overturn the election.”

On the Floor

The House approved a Senate-passed measure aimed at reducing ocean shipping costs and addressing supply chain problems Monday night. Members are also set to consider a wildlife protection bill and the Supreme Court security legislation, among others. A full list of bills the House is likely to vote on this week is available here.

Senators will continue to consider a bill this week boosting health care for veterans exposed to toxic substances.

Key Hearings

  • FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell is testifying this morning before a House subcommittee on the Biden administration’s budget request for the agency in the upcoming fiscal year. Information and livestream here.

  • New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon will appear before the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis this afternoon for a hearing on cutting methane pollution. Information and livestream here.

  • Several administration officials will appear before members of the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday morning for a hearing on the current status of ISIS and al-Qaeda. Information and livestream here.

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee will meet Wednesday morning for a hearing on protecting America’s children from gun violence. Information and livestream here.

  • A Senate Judiciary subcommittee will hold a hearing Wednesday afternoon on the baby formula shortage. Information and livestream here.

  • Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing Thursday morning on supporting European energy independence. Three administration officials are set to testify. Information and livestream here.

  • Health officials will appear before senators on Thursday morning for a hearing on the ongoing federal response to the coronavirus pandemic. Information and livestream here.

Of Note

Lawmakers make bipartisan push for new government powers to block U.S. investments in China

Lost relatives and friends found in leaked Xinjiang photos

Supreme Court rules against detained immigrants facing deportation

Death threats and epithets: The lonely primary of one Republican who impeached Trump

Biden likely to meet Saudi crown prince, reversing campaign vow

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