The Hill’s Morning Report — Bipartisan group meets on gun safety legislation
Americans this week begged and berated members of Congress to act after Tuesday’s mass shooting in Texas, and in response, a small, bipartisan group of senators on Thursday decided to make yet another attempt at locating a legislative middle ground on gun safety after years of deep discord.
Meanwhile, President Biden will travel to Uvalde, Texas, on Sunday to console relatives of the 21 victims, including 19 children, who died at an elementary school after an 18-year-old with an assault rifle opened fire in a classroom, also killing two teachers.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), whose constituents in Buffalo are still reeling after an 18-year-old gunman killed 10 people at a grocery store with an assault rifle, is encouraging Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who have supported gun control legislation since the Sandy Hook school massacre in 2012, to collaborate on possible legislative responses with three Democratic colleagues and what Murphy said would be five GOP senators, reports The Hill’s Alexander Bolton.
Schumer told his colleagues they should prepare to vote next month on some form of gun legislation when they return to Washington. Any deal in the 50-50 Senate would need the support of at least 10 Republicans and all Democrats to produce the 60 votes necessary to break a filibuster.
The New York Times: Where Senate Republicans stand on gun legislation.
No senator has offered specifics or forecast results, and lawmakers remain at odds about whether a legislative concentration on guns is the most effective response to mass killings in America, now an epidemic.
■ The Hill: Democrats aim for a modest deal on guns.
■ Politico: The GOP’s two favorite Democrats try to turn their credibility into a gun deal.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he encouraged Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Judiciary Committee, to discuss legislative ideas with Murphy and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), among other colleagues, with a focus on “an outcome that’s directly related to the problem” (The Hill).
“I am hopeful that we could come up with a bipartisan solution that’s directly related to the facts of this awful massacre,” McConnell said (Fox News).
The definition of “solution,” however, remains as hotly debated as causes leading to a steep rise in mass shootings in the United States.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who is retiring this year, told reporters he wants to explore options for legislation, but he was careful not to point to guns.
“I’m having conversations with people that I think are interested in getting an outcome. I’m interested in getting an outcome,” Toomey said (The Hill).
Murphy spoke with Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who is leading the GOP effort to get more Republicans elected to the Senate in November, to discuss legislation he signed as Florida’s former governor in response to the Parkland school murders in 2018. That legislation raised the legal age to buy most weapons in Florida to 21 (WINK). Murphy said Scott told him he believes such changes should be legislated by states rather than Congress (Politico).
© Associated Press / J. Scott Applewhite | Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), seen in 2013, have worked together on proposed gun legislation for a decade.
On Sunday in Texas, Biden says he hopes to bring a “little comfort to a community in shock.”
It remains to be seen what else Biden can do. As The Hill’s Morgan Chalfant and Brett Samuels write, the president has nearly exhausted his options to confront gun violence through executive action. However, gun control advocates and allies are urging him to bolster enforcement of existing laws or treat incidents as a federal public health concern.
“This should be an all-government, all-hands-on-deck approach to solve this issue, and that includes the health agencies,” Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign, told The Hill.
Ultimately, though, what Biden can do pales in comparison to what can be done on Capitol Hill.
■ The New York Times: Senators grasp for a bipartisan gun deal, facing long odds.
■ Politico: “He can’t just be the ‘eulogizer in chief’”: Frustration grows over Biden’s Texas response.
■ Niall Stanage: The Memo: “Gated political thinking” thwarts progress on guns.
■ The Dallas Morning News: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) decided not to attend the National Rifle Association convention in Houston and instead will be in Uvalde today. The governor recorded a video message for the NRA gathering.
Texas law enforcement officials face questions about whether police waited too long to respond after the gunman entered the elementary school unchallenged by security and spent an hour inside (The Washington Post). It was unclear on Thursday whether the rampage went on long enough on Tuesday that witnesses gathered at the scene had protested that police needed to enter the school and even agitated to do so themselves.
“We have not verified if that’s a true statement or not or whether it’s just rumor out there,” said Victor Escalon, a regional director of the Texas Department of Public Safety (The Hill).
▪ CNBC: Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) asks FBI to investigate police response timeline in Texas school shooting as controversy grows.
▪ The Hill: Senate Republicans block domestic terrorism bill.
▪ The New York Times: Other countries experienced mass shootings and had cultures of gun ownership. They changed their gun laws and their violence statistics show the results.
▪ The Hill: Five things to know about this weekend’s NRA meeting in Houston.
▪ The Hill: Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told House lawmakers on Thursday that educators “need action” on school safety and more when it comes to mass shootings.
👉 NOTE TO READERS: The Hill’s Morning Report returns Tuesday, May 31, following Memorial Day. Welcome to summer!
LEADING THE DAY
➤ POLITICS & CONGRESS
Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf told senators on Thursday that he does not expect the nation’s infant formula shortage to be fully resolved until late July.
The FDA chief, who was appearing before the Senate Health Committee, told lawmakers that it will take weeks to get to where store shelves across the country are filled once again, but that the onslaught of production now will eventually result in a surplus.
“My expectation is that within two months we should be beyond normal, and with a plethora,” Califf said. “It’s going to be gradual improvement up to probably somewhere around two months until the shelves are replete again.”
Califf added that a separate discussion about the creation of a government national stockpile of formula “as a backup” to guard against future disruptions should be discussed (The Hill).
■ The Associated Press`: Baby formula shortage highlights racial disparities.
■ CNN: Instacart: Baby formula searches surging as store shelves remain empty.
■ The Washington Post: Parents trying to find baby formula are getting scammed.
On the political side, former President Trump and two of his adult children must testify under oath as part of the New York attorney general’s investigation into his business practices, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.
A four-judge panel for the appellate division of the state’s high court unanimously ruled against Trump’s appeal, dismissing the former president’s arguments that the subpoena is part of a politically motivated investigation. The ruling also means that Donald Trump Jr., and Ivanka Trump must also testify, as both stepped down from the family business in 2017.
“The existence of a criminal investigation does not preclude civil discovery of related facts, at which a party may exercise the privilege against self-incrimination,” the panel wrote (The Associated Press).
“Appellants have not identified any similarly implicated corporation that was not investigated or any executives of such a corporation who were not deposed.” the ruling continued. “Therefore, appellants have failed to demonstrate that they were treated differently from any similarly situated persons” (The Hill).
On Capitol Hill, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who has seen her star grow in Trump’s orbit, is leaning against a bid for House majority whip if Republicans retake the majority in the lower chamber in November, according to the Washington Examiner.
If Stefanik passes on becoming the top GOP vote counter, Reps. Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.), the House GOP’s chief deputy whip, Jim Banks (R-Ind.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, and Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), head of the House GOP campaign arm, are considered the leading candidates for the presumptive post.
The Hill: Trump rally for Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-Wyo.) challenger to feature video appearances by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Stefanik.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
➤ UKRAINE CRISIS
Among the many sobering warnings emanating from Ukraine is that Russia’s war could starve millions of people, or at least render some food supplies scarce.
Ukraine’s minister of agriculture warned that by midsummer the world would start to feel the squeeze on food supplies and higher grain prices caused by Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian sea exports, The New York Times reported.
Before the war, Russia and Ukraine supplied more than a quarter of the world’s wheat.
“Countries right now still have some reserves, and they are still under the general hope that somehow, this will work itself out,” the minister, Mykola Solskyi, told the Times. “But when they see in July or August that they are running out of grain, and that the prices are extremely high, then the world will start to show a lot of emotions. There will be problems because of it.”
Pouncing on the world’s worries about food, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi that lifting sanctions would ease such worries — with conditions (The Associated Press).
Moscow “is ready to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the export of grain and fertilizer on the condition that politically motivated restrictions imposed by the West are lifted,” Putin said, according to a Kremlin summary of the call.
Moscow is eager to shift blame; Ukraine cannot ship grain and other agricultural products because of Russia’s attacks and control of its ports. Britain immediately accused Russia of “trying to hold the world to ransom,” insisting there would be no sanctions relief, and a top U.S. diplomat blasted the “sheer barbarity, sadistic cruelty and lawlessness” of Russia’s invasion.
■ The New York Times: How does it end? Fissures emerge over what constitutes victory in Ukraine.
■ The Hill: U.S. fights its own secrecy laws to pursue Russian assets.
■ The Washington Post: Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin met in Kyiv on Thursday with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky as Finland, along with Sweden, seek to join NATO.
© Associated Press / Ukrainian Presidential Press Office | Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin in Kyiv on Thursday.
■ Our babies are dying. Where are the responsible adults? by Dana Milbank, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3a1a3SY
■ A culture that kills its children has no future, by Elizabeth Bruenig, staff writer, The Atlantic. https://bit.ly/3MS3oZX
■ The Southern Baptist moral meltdown, by David Brooks, columnist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3LQuO19
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 9 a.m. for a pro forma session. Lawmakers will return to work on June 7.
The Senate convenes for a pro forma session at 9:30 a.m. Senators return to Washington on June 6.
The president will address the United States Naval Academy’s graduation and commissioning ceremony for the class of 2022 at 10 a.m. Biden will depart several hours later from Annapolis, Md., for Delaware, where he will spend the weekend.
Vice President Harris has no public schedule today.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets at 1 p.m. with Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto and they will take questions from the press at 2:15 p.m. at the State Department.
The current COVID-19 variant that is sweeping the U.S. is firmly in the delta lineage, but it is perhaps its properties from the original delta strain that have helped it spread faster and evade immunity than previously dominant variations, including the original omicron variant. As The Associated Press reports, a genetic trait known as a “delta mutation,” appears to allow the virus “to escape pre-existing immunity from vaccination and prior infection, especially if you were infected in the omicron wave,” according to Wesley Long, a pathologist at Houston Methodist in Texas.
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,004,122. Current average U.S. COVID-19 daily deaths are 305, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Biden administration on Thursday announced the first proposed wind power lease sales offshore in California, the latest in a series of sales as the administration seeks to build out renewable energy infrastructure. The lease sales, the first of its kind off the West Coast, will take place in five proposed lease areas: Two off the Northern California coast in the Humboldt Wind Energy Area, and off of central California in the Morro Bay Wind Energy Area (The Hill).
Ray Liotta, known for his starring roles in “Goodfellas,” as mobster Henry Hill, and “Field of Dreams,” as Shoeless Joe Jackson, died on Thursday at age 67, reportedly in his sleep in the Dominican Republic filming a project titled “Dangerous Waters” (Deadline and CNN).
© Associated Press / Christopher Raphael, Amazon Prime Video | Actor Ray Liotta seen in a scene from “Hanna,” 2021.
© Library of Congress / Underwood & Underwood | President Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir on Glacier Point, Yosemite Valley, California, in 1903.
And finally … 👏👏👏 Bravo to this week’s Morning Report Quiz winners! With summer getaways in mind, we asked readers about former presidents, first ladies and camping.
Here’s who aced the puzzle: Ki Harvey, Amanda Fisher, Jaina Mehta, Patrick Kavanagh, Lori Benso, Daniel Bachhuber, Carl J. Horn, Bonnie LePard, Steve James, Lou Tisler and Robert Bradley.
In May 1903, former President Theodore Roosevelt’s three-day adventure camping under the stars with naturalist John Muir in Yellowstone Valley inspired Roosevelt to create Yellowstone National Park.
While campaigning for a second term during the summer of 2012, former President Obama mentioned to audiences that daughters Sasha and Malia had enjoyed a month of sports, crafts and “some ice cream” at summer camp in New Hampshire, site of the first-in-the-nation primary.
In the summer of 1995, former President Clinton and former first lady Hillary Clinton vowed to spend 17 days of vacation in the Grand Tetons. To the amazement of staff and journalists, the customarily restless duo stayed all 17 days and raved about their R&R.
As a young woman, former first lady Betty Ford worked as a dance instructor during summers at Camp Bryn Afon in Wisconsin. (The camp newsletter enthused, “There’s a step for everyone and not a wallflower in sight when the music starts to swing.”)