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-PowellDems unveil anti-workplace harassment bill Dem lawmakers will attempt tour of detention facility they say turned them away Dem reps say they were denied access to immigrant detention center 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 HoyerHouse Dem dismisses impeachment push: 'I'd rather defeat' Trump at ballot box Democrats renew attacks on Trump attorney general Impeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent MORE (D-Md.) told reporters.

Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDems reject Barr's offer to view Mueller report with fewer redactions Five takeaways from Mueller's report Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates MORE (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Joni ErnstJoni Kay Ernst Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 GOP senators divided on Trump trade pushback Abrams: Schumer has been 'relentless but thoughtful' about Senate bid 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 McConnellSenate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Anti-smoking advocates question industry motives for backing higher purchasing age Former Bush assistant: Mueller report makes Obama look 'just plain bad' 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 StefanikDem gun efforts run into Senate GOP bulwark Overnight Health Care: Lawmakers get deal to advance long-stalled drug pricing bill | House votes to condemn Trump's anti-ObamaCare push | Eight House Republicans join with Dems | Trump officials approve Medicaid expansion in Maine The 8 Republicans who voted against Trump's anti-ObamaCare push 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 MillerKerry goes after Trump over climate on Capitol Hill Overnight Energy: Interior pick heads toward Senate confirmation | Dems want probe into nominee's role on pesticide report | House climate panel holds first hearing Newly-formed House climate panel holds first hearing MORE (R-W.Va.) said during the bill’s initial House floor debate on Wednesday.

Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellDemocrats renew attacks on Trump attorney general House Dem calls Mueller report 'a roadmap' for 2020 Dems grill EPA chief over auto emissions rollback plan 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. FitzpatrickFreshman House Dems surge past GOP in money race Cybersecurity Advisory Committee will strengthen national security through a stronger public-private partnership Congress is ready to tackle climate change 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 CicillineDem lawmaker: 'Quite clear' Trump committed impeachable offenses Dem lawmaker shares threatening voicemail he received after speaking out on the Mueller report Dems attack Barr's credibility after report of White House briefings on Mueller findings MORE (D-R.I.) said. “We’re going to keep doing the work that we committed to delivering on.”