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House braces for battle over guns

House braces for battle over guns
© Haiyun Jiang

House lawmakers are bracing for a new fight on guns, as Democrats vow to deploy more of the same guerrilla tactics they used during a 26-hour sit-in that saw them grab the political spotlight while creating chaos on the floor.

Republicans insist they won’t cave to the minority’s demands for votes on two gun measures and that they will instead bring their own gun proposal to the floor this week.

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The GOP is also weighing whether to punish Democrats for violating House rules during their protest two weeks ago.

“The last thing I want to do is incentivize these tactics. The last thing I want to do is ... turn Congress into a college campus and allow that kind of activity to be rewarded,” Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments Pelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats MORE (R-Wis.) said Tuesday in a radio interview with WTMJ in Milwaukee.

Democrats say the GOP has a simple way to avoid the tactics: Give them a fair vote.

“Why do they have to threaten … tactics against us?” Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, asked Tuesday. “We're not asking them to pass the bill. What we're asking them to do is bring the bill to the floor so we can have a vote. What are they afraid of?”

Democrats have seized on the June 12 massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando to push two separate gun reform bills.

One Democratic measure would expand background checks on prospective gun buyers; the other would bar gun sales to those on the FBI's terrorist watchlists.  

The latter proposal — dubbed “no fly, no buy” — would empower the Justice Department to block the sale of firearms indefinitely if the agency “has a reasonable belief” that the buyer might use the gun for terrorist-related activities.  

Most Republicans, joined by the National Rifle Association (NRA), reject the proposal as giving too much power to the attorney general to deny Second Amendment rights without due process. They're rallying behind an alternative proposal, similar to a Senate bill authored by Texas Republican John CornynJohn CornynTrump leads Biden in Texas by 4 points: poll President Trump: To know him is to 'No' him Dallas Morning News poll shows Biden leading Trump in Texas MORE, that would give the Justice Department three days to convince a judge there's probable cause the prospective buyer would use the weapon in connection with terrorism — a bar too high, in the eyes of Democratic critics.

That proposal will be part of an anti-terrorism package GOP leaders will bring to the floor by Thursday.

“The issue here is homegrown jihadists being radicalized. The issue is terrorism,” Ryan said. “The issue isn’t compromising law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment and Fifth Amendment rights.”

Ryan was set to meet Tuesday night with Democratic Rep. John Lewis (Ga.), the civil rights icon, and Rep. John Larson (Conn.), former head of the House Democratic Caucus, to discuss a path forward. But both sides appear unwilling to give ground, raising plenty of questions about the Democrats' next steps.

Ahead of that meeting, a number of Democrats said they're eying a long list of strategies to keep the pressure on GOP leaders in the wake of the sit-in, which they consider a political success. No decisions have been made, they insist, but they're leaving everything on the table, including the possibility of another floor occupation.

“All arrows are in the quiver,” Crowley told The Hill. “We've used very few of them right now, and we have a lot to play.”

As they consider their next move, a number of Democrats said they’re willing to escalate the debate by getting arrested to highlight the issue.

“If it comes to believing in what I do and I get arrested, I get arrested, because I'm tired of seeing [the violence in] Chicago,” said Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.). “Something has to be done.”

Other Democrats, including Crowley and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), echoed that warning Tuesday.

“There are a number of strategies and tactics that can be brought to bear, and that is one of them,” she said. “And I think it's a legitimate one.”

Rep. Jim Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, said much of the party’s decision will hinge on Lewis. The Georgia Democrat was nearly killed by police during a 1965 civil rights march in Selma, Ala., giving him enormous moral authority over his conference.

“I'm not going to get out there in front of him on this,” Clyburn said in an interview Tuesday.

Ryan and other GOP leaders have warned that they won’t “tolerate” further Democratic disruptions on the House floor, though they haven’t said how exactly they might respond to future outbursts.

Some rank-and-file Republicans have been pressuring GOP leaders to punish Democrats who broke House rules during the sit-in by taking photos and videos from the chamber floor.

And a somber Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Tuesday that GOP leadership is reviewing allegations that some Democratic participants had tried to intimidate nonpartisan House staffers and knock things out of their hands during the sit-in.

Both McCarthy and Ryan will meet with House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving on Wednesday to discuss what transpired during the protest and what can be done to prevent it from happening again.

"I feel very strongly that maintaining the rules of the floor — I consider it a hallowed place where we do the people's business — those rules must be followed," said Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) as she emerged from a GOP leadership meeting Tuesday afternoon.

"And I do believe there need to be repercussions. And I think we're exploring a lot of different options in that regard. ... I think you'll be seeing some things in the coming days."

Though the Democrats are focusing on the background check and watchlist bills, there also seems to be a growing appetite for a third proposal that could enter the debate as a compromise. Sponsored by moderate Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsHouse Judiciary Republicans mockingly tweet 'Happy Birthday' to Hillary Clinton after Barrett confirmation Barrett sworn in as Supreme Court justice by Thomas Roberts to administer judicial oath to Barrett Tuesday MORE (R-Maine), the bill would bar gun sales to those on only two of the FBI's watchlists — a smaller pool than the Democrats prefer, but a middle ground they might be willing to accept.

Larson said Tuesday that “something like the Collins bill probably would be … amenable to us.” And Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) said he's pushing hard for her approach if GOP leaders refuse votes on the other two bills, as expected.

“It would be progress just to get that one measure passed, pass a Republican bill, and do something, not just engage in finger pointing on this measure,” Doggett told The Hill. “If we passed it with a strong bipartisan majority here, it might become law.”

The Collins bill is opposed by the NRA, however, which makes it less likely to be taken up by the GOP.