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 Rutherford'Mass shooting' at Florida video game tournament: authorities Carter, Yoder advance in appropriations committee leadership reshuffle Senators introduce measure floating years of prison for those who injure cops 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 HoyerThis week: Tensions flare over Schiff, impeachment inquiry House Republicans 'demand the release of the rules' on impeachment Scalise, Cole introduce resolution to change rules on impeachment 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 TrumpTrump says he doesn't want NYT in the White House Veterans group backs lawsuits to halt Trump's use of military funding for border wall Schiff punches back after GOP censure resolution fails 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 RyanAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials Democrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate 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 rejects GOP measure censuring Schiff This week: Tensions flare over Schiff, impeachment inquiry House Republicans 'demand the release of the rules' on impeachment MORE (La.), Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersSocial determinants of health — health care isn't just bugs and bacteria Lawmakers deride FTC settlement as weak on Facebook Overnight Energy: Fight over fuel standards intensifies | Democrats grill Trump officials over rule rollback | California official blasts EPA chief over broken talks | Former EPA official says Wheeler lied to Congress MORE (Wash.), former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzLawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings DeLauro enters race to succeed Lowey as Appropriations chief Democrats walk tightrope in fight over Trump wall funds MORE (Fla.) and Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchBacklash erupts at video depicting Trump killing media, critics House Ethics Committee reviewing two GOP lawmakers over campaign finance House Ethics panel reviewing Tlaib over campaign salary MORE (D-Fla.), whose district includes Stoneman Douglas.

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump holds more Medal of Freedom ceremonies than predecessors but awards fewer medals Trump to award Medal of Freedom to former Attorney General Edwin Meese Trump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom 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 rejects GOP measure censuring Schiff Poll: 14 percent of GOP voters say Trump should be impeached Turkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate 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 McConnellTrump urges GOP to fight for him Senate Dems signal they'll support domestic spending package Trump's top picks for Homeland Security chief are ineligible for job: reports 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 SchumerTurkey says soldier killed despite cease-fire in Syria Schumer calls for FDA to probe reports of contaminated baby food How Trump and Pelosi went from bad to worse 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