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 RutherfordEd Markey, John Rutherford among victors at charity pumpkin-carving contest 'Mass shooting' at Florida video game tournament: authorities Carter, Yoder advance in appropriations committee leadership reshuffle 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. 

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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 HoyerMexico's president uses US visit to tout ties with Trump Amy Kennedy wins NJ primary to face GOP's Van Drew House Democrat calls for 'real adult discussion' on lawmaker pay 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 TrumpDavis: Supreme Court decision is bad news for Trump, good news for Vance Meadows trying to root out suspected White House leakers by feeding them info: Axios Pressley hits DeVos over reopening schools: 'I wouldn't trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child' 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 RyanBush, Romney won't support Trump reelection: NYT Twitter joins Democrats to boost mail-in voting — here's why Lobbying world 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 ScaliseCheney clashes with Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Republicans shift, urge people to wear masks GOP-Trump fractures on masks open up MORE (La.), Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersGOP lawmakers voice support for Israeli plan to annex areas in West Bank Trio of GOP lawmakers asks Zoom to clarify China ties after it suspends accounts Bipartisan senators call for investigation of TikTok's child privacy policies MORE (Wash.), former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzHouse panel advances bill banning construction on bases with Confederate names The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Rodney Davis says most important thing White House can do on COVID-19 is give consistent messaging; US new cases surpass 50k for first time VA initiates process to remove headstones with Nazi symbols MORE (Fla.) and Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Teachers' union President Randi Weingarten calls Trump administration plan to reopen schools 'a train wreck'; US surpasses 3 million COVID-19 cases US lawmakers call on EU to label entire Hezbollah a terrorist organization 189 House Democrats urge Israel to 'reconsider' annexation MORE (D-Fla.), whose district includes Stoneman Douglas.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMellman: Roberts rescues the right? DACA remains in place, but Dreamers still in limbo Bottom line 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 McCarthyCongress under pressure to provide billions for school openings Supreme Court rulings reignite Trump oversight wars in Congress The Hill's Campaign Report: Florida's coronavirus surge raises questions about GOP convention 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 McConnellCongress pulls punches on Russian bounties firestorm Congress under pressure to provide billions for school openings Hillicon Valley: Facebook considers political ad ban | Senators raise concerns over civil rights audit | Amazon reverses on telling workers to delete TikTok 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 SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' A renewed emphasis on research and development funding is needed from the government Data shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs 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