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Gridlock on guns in Orlando's wake

Gridlock on guns in Orlando's wake
© Greg Nash

The Senate rejected four separate gun control measures on Monday as Republicans and Democrats jockeyed for position the week after the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

All four measures — two dealt with background checks and two sought to prevent people on terrorist watchlists from buying guns — were expected to fail.

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All four required 60 votes to move forward, and Republicans and Democrats offered dueling amendments on both issues. The National Rifle Association opposed the two Democratic measures.

The climactic vote was on a measure sponsored by Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinPush to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw Overnight Health Care: Pfizer could apply for vaccine authorization by late November | State health officials say they need .4B for vaccination effort | CDC: Blacks, Hispanics dying of COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates Major abortion rights group calls for Democrats to replace Feinstein on Judiciary Committee MORE (D-Calif.) that would have prohibited people on terrorist watchlists from buying guns or explosives. It failed 47-53.

Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by JobsOhio - Showdown: Trump-Biden debate likely to be nasty Senate Democrats want to avoid Kavanaugh 2.0 Harris faces pivotal moment with Supreme Court battle MORE (N.D.) was the only Democrat to vote against it.

Only two Republicans backed the Feinstein  amendment: Sens. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Senate makes SCOTUS nominee Barrett a proxy for divisive 2020 Senate Republicans scramble to put Trump at arm's length Liberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP MORE (Ill.) and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Senate makes SCOTUS nominee Barrett a proxy for divisive 2020 Senate Republicans scramble to put Trump at arm's length GOP anxiety grows over Trump political roller coaster MORE (N.H.). Kirk is the most endangered Republican up for reelection in the Senate, and Ayotte also faces a tough race.

Connecticut Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenate Democrats seek to alleviate public concern about some results not being available on election night Supreme Court could threaten Biden agenda Sen. Ron Johnson tests positive for coronavirus MORE (D), who waged a filibuster last week focused on the Feinstein measure, offered a separate amendment to expand background checks to include private firearm sales. It also failed to reach 60 votes.

Democratic Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPush to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw Harris walks fine line on Barrett as election nears Tom Cotton: 'No doubt' coronavirus won't stop confirmation of SCOTUS nominee MORE (W.Va.), Heitkamp and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterPush to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw Overnight Defense: National Guard says no federal requests for election security help | Dems accuse VA head of misusing resources | Army official links COVID-19 to troop suicides Democrats accuse VA head of misusing resources to stump for Trump, vulnerable GOP senators MORE (Mont.) voted against moving forward with the proposal. Kirk supported it.

Despite the legislative defeats, Democrats came away confident of a political victory. They plan to use these votes in campaign ads this fall against vulnerable Senate Republicans.

Monday’s votes came just over a week after a gunman pledging allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria shot and killed 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando.

A CNN/ORC poll released Monday shows that public support for gun control has surged in the wake of the shooting, with 55 percent of respondents nationwide calling for stricter gun laws — 9 percentage points higher than in October.

Eight-five percent of respondents said they favored preventing people on government terrorist watchlists, including the no-fly list, from owning guns. Just over 9 in 10 said they support requiring a background check for anyone attempting to purchase a gun.

Republicans say they are wary of the political danger for their members. In addition to Kirk and Ayotte, GOP Sens. Pat Toomey (Pa.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanCandymakers meet virtually with lawmakers for annual fly-in, discuss Halloween safety Democrats look past Election Day in Barrett fight  Another fiscal year, another CR; it's time for this nonsense to end MORE (Ohio) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSunday shows preview: Coronavirus cases surge in the Midwest; Trump hits campaign trail after COVID-19 Cuomo signs legislation declaring Juneteenth an official holiday in New York Trailing in polls, Trump campaign resurrects Hunter Biden attacks MORE (Wis.) face reelection in states won in 2008 and 2012 by President Obama.

Republican leaders appeared willing to give Ayotte, who is facing one of the most highly touted Democratic recruits, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, leeway to break from the party line.

Ayotte announced before the votes that she would support Feinstein’s bill to ban people on terrorist watchlists from obtaining guns as well as the GOP alternative.

Americans for Responsible Solutions, a political action committee dedicated to preventing gun violence, on Monday released a poll it commissioned showing Ayotte trailing Hassan by 4 points. The poll showed that 89 percent of New Hampshire voters favor barring suspected terrorists from buying guns.

Republicans tried to inoculate their endangered colleagues by offering alternative amendments.

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynCornyn: Relationships with Trump like 'women who get married and think they're going to change their spouse' Changing suburbs threaten GOP hold on Texas Republicans increasingly seek distance from Trump MORE (Texas) proposed a measure that he touted as the only proposal that would bar terrorists from acquiring weapons without trampling on constitutional rights.

“I don’t think any American should sacrifice their constitutional rights without forcing the government to go to an impartial magistrate or judge and be able to show sufficient evidence to convince the judge that they have the evidence to deny those constitutional rights,” he said on the floor.

Under the Cornyn amendment, any individual suspected of terrorist activity or the subject of a terrorism investigation in the last five years would trigger a warning to law enforcement officials if he or she attempted to purchase a gun.

The attorney general would be empowered to delay the sale or transfer of a weapon for up to three business days, giving prosecutors time to obtain a court order to block the transaction if justified.

Democrats have argued that sets up too difficult a barrier to keeping guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists.

It fell short 53 to 47. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyHarris walks fine line on Barrett as election nears The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by JobsOhio - Showdown: Trump-Biden debate likely to be nasty Senate Democrats want to avoid Kavanaugh 2.0 MORE (Ind.) voted for it and three Republicans — Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPush to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw Collins PAC donated hundreds of dollars to two candidates who support QAnon Republicans increasingly seek distance from Trump MORE (Maine), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump excoriates Sasse over leaked audio Biden holds 8-point lead over Trump in Arizona: poll How fast population growth made Arizona a swing state MORE (Ariz.) and Kirk — voted no.

The fourth amendment, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyRepublicans: Supreme Court won't toss ObamaCare Barrett sidesteps Democratic questions amid high-stakes grilling Democrats warn of ObamaCare threat from Barrett, Trump MORE (R-Iowa), gave Republicans an alternative to the Democratic proposal to expand background checks. It would authorize $125 million in spending for the National Criminal Instant Background Check System and create more incentives for federal agencies to share and upload records.

Monday’s stalemate was a replay of dueling partisan votes the Senate cast in December after another radicalized a couple killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif. 

A compromise proposal pushed by moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, which is co-sponsored by Ayotte, has some Democratic support.

It is similar to the Feinstein amendment but drawn more narrowly to bar people on the no-fly list and what’s called the “selectee list,” which requires designees to undergo additional screening at airports, from buying firearms. Collins says these lists have higher standards of evidence than other terrorist watchlists.

Either way, it’s not likely to go anywhere. Senior Democratic and Republican aides say it has little chance of passing.

Cornyn told The Associated Press Monday that the Collins proposal raised concerns because it would immediately bar people on a terrorist watchlist from buying a gun without due process under the law.

Democrats will use the votes to portray GOP candidates as more concerned about not offending the NRA than listening to public sentiment.

“It doesn’t matter how sensible the legislation or how terrible the tragedy. Republicans are beholden to the National Rifle Association, the NRA, and not to the people that elect them to come here and represent them,” Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBiden owes us an answer on court-packing Progressive group: Feinstein must step down as top Democrat on Judiciary panel Senate needs to confirm Judge Barrett before Election Day  MORE (Nev.) said on the floor Monday afternoon.

Republican strategists acknowledged Monday that although the issue of gun control hasn’t generally hurt the GOP in November, the votes were tough for Republicans running for reelection in states previously carried by Obama.

“Gun legislation has not been potent politically. Sometimes it has backfired. I will say on this, though, these seem like poll-tested pieces of legislation,” said John Weaver, who served as a senior adviser to Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump digs in on conspiracy theory over bin Laden raid At 97, Bob Dole is still fighting for his country Leadership matters: President's words and actions show he is unfit to lead our nation MORE’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaigns.

“For those in swing districts, this is a very tough vote.”

Updated at 8:20 p.m.