House poised to pass school safety measure

House poised to pass school safety measure
© Greg Nash

The House on Wednesday will take its first legislative action in response to last month’s mass shooting at a Florida high school, focusing on school safety while steering clear of new gun controls.

The chamber is poised to easily pass a bipartisan bill from Rep. John RutherfordJohn Henry RutherfordGun protests sweep nation as House passes school safety bill House passes school safety bill amid gun protests House poised to pass school safety measure MORE (R-Fla.) that would create a new grant program to help educate students and teachers about how to spot and report signs of gun violence. 

While the school safety measure is expected to pass with overwhelming support, Democrats argue that the measure falls far short of what is needed to combat the scourge of mass shootings.

“The bill that’s being proposed I think will have … overwhelming support. I don’t think there will be very many people who are going to oppose that, if any,” Rep. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerSteyer brings his push to impeach Trump to town halls across the nation Congress may pass background check legislation in funding bill Anti-abortion Dem’s political career on the line in Illinois MORE (D-Md.), the minority whip, told reporters on Tuesday.

But, he added, “it is not a substitute for things that will make our society, as well as our schools, our malls, our churches, our restaurants, our nightclubs — any place where large public gatherings occur — safer.”

The national debate over gun control has intensified since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in part because the students who survived the attack have become advocates for a legislative response.

Wednesday’s vote happens to coincide with a nationwide walkout at high schools protesting inaction on gun control.

Polls show that there is more support than ever before for new restrictions on firearms, while a number of Republicans — including President TrumpDonald John TrumpScarborough mocks 'Deflection Don' over transgender troop ban Pelosi condemns Trump's 'cowardly, disgusting' ban on transgender troops Trump moves to ban most transgender people from serving in military MORE — have called for tougher gun laws.

But GOP leaders have largely aligned with the National Rifle Association (NRA) since the shooting, rejecting the idea that new gun controls would prevent future tragedies.

“We shouldn’t be banning guns from law-abiding citizens,” Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanYou just can't keep good health policy down Trump blasts Congress for sending him omnibus bill that 'nobody read' Students bash Congress for inaction on gun control MORE (R-Wis.) said after the attack.

Instead, GOP leaders have focused on ramping up school safety and investigating why law enforcement missed repeated warnings about the suspect in the Parkland attack.

The bill from Rutherford, the STOP (Students, Teachers, and Officers Preventing) School Violence Act, would provide $50 million a year for a new grant program designed to train students, faculty and law enforcement about how to spot and report warning signs of potential gun violence. It would also develop anonymous telephone and online systems where people could report threats of violence.

Appropriators would need to provide money for the grant program in a separate spending bill.

“It’s a very important issue right now,” Rutherford, a former sheriff, told The Hill last week. “The sooner that we make these funds available for schools to harden the target, do the educational piece, the better.”

The bill has more than 75 co-sponsors, including Republican Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseHouse Republicans grumble about the 'worst process ever' House expected to vote on omnibus Thursday afternoon House poised to vote on .3T spending bill MORE (La.), Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersHouse passes school safety bill amid gun protests House GOP frets over Pennsylvania race House poised to pass school safety measure MORE (Wash.), former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzHouse passes school safety bill amid gun protests 25 House Dems demand Kushner's firing Fort Lauderdale elects city's first openly gay mayor MORE (Fla.) and Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchStudents bash Congress for inaction on gun control Judiciary Dems warn Trump: Don't fire Mueller, Sessions during House recess Gun protests sweep nation as House passes school safety bill MORE (D-Fla.), whose district includes Stoneman Douglas.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMichael Steele: Congress must lead on cannabis reform and stand with the American public Overnight Cybersecurity: House Intel votes to release Russia report | House lawmakers demand Zuckerberg testify | Senators unveil updated election cyber bill Omnibus includes search-and-seize provision MORE (R-Utah) has a companion bill in the Senate that has also attracted bipartisan support.

The House will consider the measure under an expedited process that requires two-thirds majority for passage.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyHouse Republicans grumble about the 'worst process ever' House easily passes .3 trillion spending bill Trump can save Republicans and restore sanity to California in 2018 MORE (R-Calif.) said the bill will only add to the House’s efforts to curb gun violence, pointing to a narrow background check measure — the Fix NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) Act — that passed the lower chamber in December.

“We need to make sure background checks are updated and that’s why we passed [the Fix NICS Act] back in December,” McCarthy said on Fox News this weekend. “Now we’re adding to it with the STOP School Violence Act. The Sandy Hook Promise endorsed this bill as well.”

The White House unveiled its own response to gun violence over the weekend. Officials called on states to provide firearms training for school staff members and urged Congress to pass legislation strengthening the national background check system for gun buys.

But the idea of arming teachers, while supported by some Republicans, is controversial in both parties and appears unlikely to advance in Congress.

The Trump administration also signaled it will not push for universal background checks or an increase in the age requirement to purchase rifles — two proposals that Trump had initially endorsed.

“On 18 to 21 Age Limits, watching court cases and rulings before acting,” Trump tweeted Monday. “States are making this decision. Things are moving rapidly on this, but not much political support (to put it mildly).”

Hoyer accused Trump of bending to the political will of the NRA.

“It’s obvious the NRA didn’t like it, so he’s backed off it,” Hoyer said. “Sad.”

Democrats say they fear that the STOP School Violence Act may end up being the extent, rather than the beginning, of the GOP’s legislative response to the school shooting.

The House already passed Fix NICS, which would encourage more reporting to the federal background check system for gun purchases, but only after it was attached to a contentious bill allowing people to carry concealed weapons across state lines. The latter proposal kept the bill from passing the Senate.

House GOP leaders promised conservatives last year that they would not decouple the two issues.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellYou just can't keep good health policy down Trump threatens to veto omnibus over lack of wall funding, DACA fix Democrats desperate for a win hail spending bill MORE (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that he is “extremely interested” in passing Fix NICS — which now has 69 Senate co-sponsors — but said he is trying to figure out the best path forward.

“Americans are wondering if the Republican Majority will ever move to take up the issue of gun safety,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerFox News host Watters says spending bill was 'huge defeat' for Trump Amtrak to rename Rochester station after Louise Slaughter Conscience protections for health-care providers should be standard MORE (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday.

“Too many Republicans here on the Hill are in the same boat as President Trump. They want to appear as though they’re doing something for gun safety, but are only willing to support the smallest-bore policies that the NRA gives the green light to.”

— Mike Lillis contributed