Dems push vulnerable GOP senators on gun control

Dems push vulnerable GOP senators on gun control
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Democrats are targeting vulnerable Senate Republicans over the issue of gun control in light of last week's mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub. 

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In their efforts to regain the majority of the upper chamber,Democratic Senate candidates are highlighting GOP incumbents' opposition to a measure that would bar suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms as well as one to expand background checks. 

Their renewed push sets the stage for a major clash with Republicans on Monday when votes on several gun control measures are expected. 

The Senate is scheduled tovote on four proposals -- two from Democrats and two from Republicans -- after Democrats staged a nearly 15-hour filibuster to force a debate on this issue. 

Democrats are rallying behind Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThis week: Democrats, White House set for infrastructure, budget talks Senate confirms Rosen for No. 2 spot at DOJ Senate confirms controversial 9th Circuit pick without blue slips MORE’s (D-Calif.) proposal that would permit the U.S. attorney general to block the sale of a gun if there is a "reasonable suspicion" that someone has been or will be involved in a terrorist attack. 

Republicans are expected to back Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Trump's immigration push faces Capitol Hill buzzsaw The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Restrictive state abortion laws ignite fiery 2020 debate MORE’s (R-Texas) alternative, which would allow the attorney general to delay suspected terrorists from buying a gun for up to 72 hours while seeking a court order to stop the sale. 

There will also be votes on competing background check proposals from Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending On The Money: Judge upholds House subpoena for Trump financial records | Trump vows to appeal ruling by 'Obama-appointed judge' | Canada, Mexico lift retaliatory tariffs on US | IRS audit rate falls Canada, Mexico lift tariffs on US goods after Trump scraps steel, aluminum levies MORE (R-Iowa) and Democratic Sens. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyConnecticut radio station rebrands itself 'Trump 103.3' Foreign Relations senators demand Iran briefing Prosecutor appointed by Barr poised to enter Washington firestorm MORE (Conn.), who started the filibuster, Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer wants investigation into Chinese-designed New York subway cars Getting serious about infrastructure Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act MORE (N.Y.) and Cory Booker (N.J.). 

But the arguments over the bills have already spilled into the vulnerable Senate races. 

The first race to see the issue highlighted was the heated Pennsylvania Senate race between Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Democratic challenger Katie McGinty. 

At a press conference the day before the filibuster, McGinty urged Toomey to support Feinstein’s legislation and said he “failed the test of leadership” on gun safety.” 

Although Toomey hit back at her accusations noting that he had spearheaded a 2013 bill withSen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinLabor head warns of 'frightening uptick' in black lung disease among miners Labor leader: Trump has stopped erosion of coal jobs Overnight Energy: States fight Trump rollback of Obama lightbulb rules | Greens seek hearing over proposed rule on energy efficiency tests | Top Dem asks GAO to investigate climate threat MORE (D-W.Va.) to strengthen background checksand faulting her own stances, hecame to the Senatefloor the day of the filibuster to call on his colleagues to compromise on the issue. 

While knocking Feinstein’s proposal as “badly flawed,” he said Cornyn’s measure -- which he had previously voted for -- likely didn’t give enough leeway to the attorney general. 

"There's an obvious opportunity here, guys, to work together and find the solution," he said. "What I'm suggesting is let's get to work here." 

On Thursday, Toomey proposed his own compromise bill aimed at finding common ground between the competing measures, but his legislation wasn’t scheduled for a vote on Monday, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Inquirer also reported Friday that Toomey will not vote for a Democratic-backed background check bill. 

McGinty’s campaign spokesman Sean Coit in a press release on Friday accused the GOP senator of caring more about reelection over limiting gun violence. 

“Not only will Toomey vote once again against legislation to close the terror loophole, but he will also vote against a bill to expand background checks on gun purchases,” Coit said. “Make no mistake about it: Toomey is all about saving his own re-election campaign, not protecting communities from gun violence." 

Democrats are also taking aim at OhioSen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget WANTED: A Republican with courage Companies warn Trump trade war is about to hit consumers MORE after his muddied response last week about where he stands on legislation to ban suspected terrorists being able to buy guns.

In 2015, Portman supported Cornyn’s bill and opposed Feinstein’s. 

But in a Tuesday call with reporters, Portman, facing a tough reelection campaign against former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D), seemed to indicate that he was open to a bill that would ban these purchases. 

When reporters asked if he was reversing where he stood last year, he said he wasn’t and explained that he opposed Feinstein’s measure because it only included those on the no-fly list.

After reporters explained that the California senator’s bill was broader, Portman sought to clarify his understanding of the 2015 bill. 

“I stand corrected if you guys are right about that,” he said on the call. “I was told it was the no-fly list and it did not require” any investigation if a person claimed he or she shouldn't have been on the list, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer

Portman aides told the New York Times Wednesday that his position remains “unchanged” and he will continue to back the Cornyn measure. 

Democrats seized on Portman’s clouded explanation and called it a “24-hour flip flop” following his press call. 

“It’s all just more proof that Portman is the ultimate Washington insider who will say anything to try and help himself -- but Portman’s hypocrisy and D.C. double-talk represents exactly what Ohioans hate about the dysfunctional politics of Washington,” Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Daniel van Hoogstraten said in a Wednesday statement. 

Two other vulnerable Republicans are working to deflate accusations by their Democratic challengers. 

Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkEx-GOP Sen. Kirk registers to lobby The global reality behind 'local' problems Dems vow swift action on gun reform next year MORE (R-Ill.), who’s considered the most vulnerable incumbent this cycle, was the only Senate Republican in late 2015to back Feinstein’s proposal. On Thursday, he introduced his own bill with Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonRepublicans amp up attacks on Tlaib's Holocaust comments The muscle for digital payment Rubio says hackers penetrated Florida elections systems MORE (D-Fla.) that would alert the FBI if a suspected terrorist attempts to purchase a firearm. 

“Terrorists should not be able to buy weapons and the FBI should be notified if a suspected terrorist buys a weapon,” Kirk said in a statement. "This commonsense legislation equips the FBI with a new tool to stop threats on American lives.” 

Still, his Democratic opponent Rep. Tammy Duckworth has hammeredKirk and chided him in a video for not participating in Democrats’ filibuster on Wednesday, saying “silence is unacceptable.” 

“Tell Mark Kirk to speak on the Senate floor about preventing gun violence and to support the gun legislation coming up for a vote,” Duckworth said in the video released Thursday. "For Mark Kirk to continue representing our state while failing to show leadership on this issue is shameful." 

But on Friday, Kirk announced in a statement that he was joining Feinstein as an author of her amendment. “If you are too dangerous to fly on a civil aircraft, you should not be able to buy a gun,” Kirk said. “We should learn the lessons from Orlando and keep weapons out of the hands of those who want to kill Americans.” 

The other Republican isNew Hampshire Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteSinema, Gallagher fastest lawmakers in charity race New Hampshire senator to ask 2020 Dems to back repeal of state residency law Schultz recruiting GOP insiders ahead of possible 2020 bid MORE, whose Democratic challenger, Gov. Maggie Hassan, is pushing her to reverse her opposition to preventing suspected terrorists from buying guns and support background checks. The New Hampshire Democratic Party tweeted a petition calling on Ayotte “to close the terrorist gun loophole.”

Ayotte, along with a two other GOP senators, is working with Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDem senator: Many Republicans 'privately expressed concerns' about Mueller findings Congress: Support legislation to defend Medicare home health  The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition — Trump: GOP has `clear contrast' with Dems on immigration MORE (R-Maine) on compromise legislation that would, among its provisions, prohibit the sale of guns to terror suspects whose names appear on either the federal no-fly list or the so-called “selectee” list.

While gun control is currently a hot topic and remains high in the headlines, political observers noted that it tends to not be a high priority issue for voters when they head to the polls.

“it’s an issue that voters have a sense about, but here’s what the problem has been in the past -- it’s never ranked high in terms of vote choice,” said Terry Madonna, a public affairs professor and polling director at Franklin & Marshall College. 

“It’s not that they don’t favor it,” he added. “It’s just not something that they use when they go and cast their votes.”