GOP struggles to find votes for gun bill

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A Republican gun reform bill appeared in peril on Wednesday after GOP leaders failed to rally conservatives behind the measure.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) had hoped to move an “anti-terror” package in response to last month’s mass shooting in Orlando — a package that included legislation designed to make it tougher for suspected terrorists to buy firearms.

{mosads}But Republican leadership is facing opposition from the members of the conservative Freedom Caucus, who deem the measure a violation of constitutional protections. Because Democrats are overwhelmingly opposed to the bill, judging it too lax, Ryan and GOP leaders don’t have the 218 votes needed to move the bill through the lower chamber. 

“They seem to be at wit’s end,” said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.). “For whatever reason, they seem to be taken by surprise by the number of Republicans who have defected.”

The conservative revolt has forced GOP leaders to delay action on the package, which was initially scheduled to move through the Rules Committee on Tuesday and hit the floor Wednesday.

The postponement is a blow to Ryan and the Republican brass, who are seeking to ease public anxieties in the wake of the Orlando massacre and to demonstrate their legislative competence after a tumultuous 2015 that saw the ousting of former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) by his own GOP troops.

The anti-terror bill has the backing of the National Rifle Association but is opposed by the Gun Owners of America, a rival group that bills itself as a “no compromise national gun rights organization.”

It’s unclear how, or if, the Republicans will proceed. Some conservatives are floating the idea of splitting the gun provision from the larger anti-terror package. That strategy would provide an out for the conservatives opposed to the notion that gun control in any form is the appropriate response to the Orlando tragedy. 

“It’s clear that terrorism shouldn’t be diverted to a gun control issue,” Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) told The Hill Wednesday. “That’s almost perverse, where you have a person mass slaughtering, whether it be in San Bernardino or Orlando. That’s not a gun issue.”

The office of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Wednesday that no decisions about timing or strategy have been finalized.

“Timing is [to be determined]. And separating provisions has not been decided,” a spokesman said in an email. 

Ryan said Wednesday morning that he’s confident the measure will get a vote before Congress leaves town next week for a long summer recess.

“I think there is still a path forward,” the Speaker said at his weekly press briefing in the Capitol.

King, who opposes Ryan’s gun bill in favor of several stronger measures, suggested GOP leaders would simply scrap their plans to move the firearm provision if they can’t win the support of more conservatives.

“They’re not going to go to Rules unless they have 218,” he said. “And they’re not there.” 

Democrats, meanwhile, believe they won a political victory last week when they seized the House floor for more than 25 hours to demand votes on a pair of gun control measures: one to expand background checks and another to bar suspected terrorists from buying guns.

Ryan rejected their proposals Tuesday night, but the Democrats have made it clear they aren’t backing down in their effort to try to force the hand of GOP leaders. What tactic they’ll employ, however, remains an open question.

“We’re going to have some more action. We don’t know what form it’s going to take, but stay tuned,” Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) said at a rally on the Capitol steps Wednesday. 

Scott Wong contributed.

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