Dem gun efforts run into Senate GOP bulwark

Democratic efforts to pass new gun restrictions in the early months of their new majority are running repeatedly into obstacles from the GOP-controlled Senate.

The latest fight concerns the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which contains a provision to ensure that people convicted of stalking or abusing their dating partners — rather than only spouses or family members — cannot own guns.


The National Rifle Association’s (NRA) opposition to the provision is unlikely to affect House passage of the bill on Thursday. But it increases the likelihood it won’t be part of a final measure to reauthorize VAWA that must also pass muster in the Senate, where NRA-friendly Republicans hold the majority.

House Democrats also passed a bill earlier this year to require universal background checks for gun purchases, a top legislative priority, that has yet to receive action in the Senate.

The gridlock underscores the challenges for gun reform.

Freshman Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-PowellDebbie Mucarsel-PowellSecond Democrat representing Trump district backs impeachment The House Democrats who voted to kill impeachment effort House votes to kill impeachment effort against Trump MORE (D-Fla.), a gun safety advocate who lost her father to gun violence, said it would be hard for Democrats to accept a VAWA measure without the provision opposed by the NRA.

“I doubt that we’ll take that version if it’s not included,” she said.

VAWA programs have been in limbo since late December as a result of the government shutdown. A bill to reopen the government a month later did not include an extension of the law, since House Democrats wanted to push for their bill that expands the current law’s scope.

“Our calculation was, we’re in charge now, we can pass the bill that we think is a comprehensive bill to protect all women,” House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOmar says US should reconsider aid to Israel Liberal Democrat eyes aid cuts to Israel after Omar, Tlaib denied entry Lawmakers blast Trump as Israel bars door to Tlaib and Omar MORE (D-Md.) told reporters.

Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTrailer shows first look at Annette Bening as Dianne Feinstein Trump administration urges Congress to reauthorize NSA surveillance program The Hill's Morning Report - More talk on guns; many questions on Epstein's death MORE (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstBill Maher says he's 'glad' David Koch is dead Five things to know about David Koch A cash advance to consider MORE (R-Iowa) are working on their own proposal to reauthorize VAWA. Ernst’s office said that she has concerns that the gun provision in House Democrats’ bill doesn’t ensure due process.

Republicans in both chambers are pushing for a simple extension of current VAWA programs. The Senate rejected a GOP amendment to a disaster aid bill on Monday that included an extension of VAWA through September.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' Pelosi asks Democrats for 'leverage' on impeachment Democrats press FBI, DHS on response to white supremacist violence MORE (R-Ky.) voted for that measure on Monday. He has not given any indication that the Senate would take up the House version once it passes the lower chamber.

In the House, GOP leaders back legislation introduced by Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikRepublican lawmakers ask Trump not to delay Pentagon cloud-computing contract Rising number of GOP lawmakers criticize Trump remarks about minority Dems Overnight Defense: Woman accusing general of sexual assault willing to testify | Joint Chiefs pick warns against early Afghan withdrawal | Tensions rise after Iran tries to block British tanker MORE (R-N.Y.) to renew VAWA programs through March 2020.

Beyond the gun provision, Republicans also oppose language expanding protections for transgender people, including requiring the Bureau of Prisons to require prisons to house transgender people based on the gender they identify with.

“It is not the time to hold the safety of women as a bargaining chip against infringements on religious liberty or weakening of the Second Amendment,” Rep. Carol MillerCarol Devine MillerGOP women's super PAC blasts 'out of touch' candidate in NC runoff GOP amps up efforts to recruit women candidates Kerry goes after Trump over climate on Capitol Hill MORE (R-W.Va.) said during the bill’s initial House floor debate on Wednesday.

Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellMichigan city declines to renew contract with ICE to hold detainees Gun reform groups to pressure GOP senators with rallies in all 50 states Automakers rebuff Trump, strike fuel efficiency deal with California MORE (D-Mich.) originally authored the measure to expand the gun restrictions to people who abuse their dating partners as a separate bill and secured its inclusion in the VAWA legislation.

She cites her own story of living with an abusive and mentally unstable father who had a gun.

“If we are doing a Violence Against Women Act and we are trying to save lives, why would you not close a simple loophole that says if someone has been convicted — convicted, not accused, convicted — of domestic violence or stalking, that they not have access to a gun,” Dingell said at a press event on Wednesday.

Asked if the provision was a VAWA “poison pill,” Dingell said: “You know what, sometimes things are as simple as this: I know that fear. I know that terror. And I just want to try to save another family from going though that terror.”

This is the first time that the NRA is scoring a vote on reauthorizing VAWA, since it’s the first time the legislation has included measures pertaining to guns.

The NRA argues that the bill is too broad with overly subjective terms, such as including former dating partners. It also objects to permanently preventing people convicted of misdemeanor stalking offenses from having guns, arguing that such offenses may not necessarily include violent or threatening behavior.

“The gun control lobby and anti-gun politicians are intentionally politicizing the Violence Against Women Act as a smokescreen to push their gun control agenda. It’s appalling that the gun control lobby and anti-gun politicians are trivializing the serious issue of domestic violence,” NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said.

So far only one House Republican has co-sponsored the Democratic bill to renew VAWA: Rep. Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickHouse Democrats targeting six more Trump districts for 2020 Ensuring quality health care for those with intellectual disabilities and autism House Democrats target 2020 GOP incumbents in new ad MORE (R-Pa.). Fitzpatrick, a centrist, was also among just eight Republicans to vote for Democrats’ universal background check legislation.

Despite the GOP resistance, Democrats said they’ll press on with further gun reforms.

“I think unfortunately we’re going to see more of this as we move forward on our entire For the People agenda,” Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineFirst House Republican backs bill banning assault weapons Hillicon Valley: O'Rourke proposal targets tech's legal shield | Dem wants public review of FCC agreement with T-Mobile, Sprint | Voters zero in on cybersecurity | Instagram to let users flag misinformation Democrat calls for public review of T-Mobile-Sprint merger agreement MORE (D-R.I.) said. “We’re going to keep doing the work that we committed to delivering on.”