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.

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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-PowellLawmakers congratulate US women's soccer team on winning opening World Cup match Lawmakers congratulate US women's soccer team on winning opening World Cup match Steyer group targeting 12 congressional Democrats over impeachment 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 Democrats close to finalizing border aid bill House Democrats close to finalizing border aid bill Hoyer expects reparations bill to get a floor vote MORE (D-Md.) told reporters.

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Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDemocrats detail new strategy to pressure McConnell on election security bills Democrats detail new strategy to pressure McConnell on election security bills Hillicon Valley: GOP senator wants one agency to run tech probes | Huawei expects to lose B in sales from US ban | Self-driving car bill faces tough road ahead | Elon Musk tweets that he 'deleted' his Twitter account MORE (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstGOP frets about Trump's poll numbers GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers GOP senators caught off guard by Shanahan withdrawal 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 McConnellOvernight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Senate to vote Thursday to block Trump's Saudi arms deal 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 StefanikOvernight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One House panel approves 3B defense policy bill House panel approves 3B defense policy bill 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 DingellOn The Money: Democrats set stage for next shutdown fight | House panel wraps up final 2020 spending bill | GOP senators, White House delay meeting on spending | Trump hits Fed over high interest rates On The Money: Democrats set stage for next shutdown fight | House panel wraps up final 2020 spending bill | GOP senators, White House delay meeting on spending | Trump hits Fed over high interest rates Michigan Democrat: Trump 'threw a grenade' in middle of new NAFTA talks with tariff threat 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. FitzpatrickOvernight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Addressing climate change is a win for Republicans — why not embrace it? 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 CicillineDemocrats fume, say Hicks declines to answer questions Democrats fume, say Hicks declines to answer questions Cracks form in Democratic dam against impeachment MORE (D-R.I.) said. “We’re going to keep doing the work that we committed to delivering on.”