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 FeinsteinFederal watchdog calls on Congress, Energy Dept. to overhaul nuclear waste storage process Senate advances Biden consumer bureau pick after panel logjam Republicans caught in California's recall trap 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 HeitkampWashington's oldest contact sport: Lobbyists scrum to dilute or kill Democrats' tax bill Progressives prepare to launch counterattack in tax fight Business groups aim to divide Democrats on .5T spending bill MORE (N.D.) was the only Democrat to vote against it.

Only two Republicans backed the Feinstein  amendment: Sens. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkDuckworth announces reelection bid Brave new world: Why we need a Senate Human Rights Commission  Senate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls MORE (Ill.) and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyottePoll: Potential Sununu-Hassan matchup in N.H. a dead heat  Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal Sununu seen as top recruit in GOP bid to reclaim Senate 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 MurphyCongress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B Senators slow Biden with holds at Pentagon, State Tell our troops: 'Your sacrifice wasn't in vain' 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 ManchinJoe ManchinCongress needs to gird the country for climate crisis Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Poll from liberal group shows more voters in key states back .5T bill MORE (W.Va.), Heitkamp and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterThree dead, dozens injured after Amtrak train derailed in Montana The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B 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 PortmanMajor US port target of attempted cyber attack Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Officials want action on cyberattacks Officials urge Congress to consider fining companies that fail to report cyber incidents MORE (Ohio) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Liberal group launches campaign urging Republicans to support Biden's agenda Domestic extremists return to the Capitol 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 CornynAbbott bows to Trump pressure on Texas election audit Senate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook Democrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight 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 DonnellyRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sanders traveling to Iowa, Indiana to pitch Biden's spending package Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda MORE (Ind.) voted for it and three Republicans — Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsLooking to the past to secure America's clean energy future Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike MORE (Maine), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots MORE (Ariz.) and Kirk — voted no.

The fourth amendment, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGrassley announces reelection bid The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B 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 ReidTo Build Back Better, we need a tax system where everyone pays their fair share Democrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda 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 McCainWhoopi Goldberg signs four-year deal with ABC to stay on 'The View' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Meghan McCain: Country has not 'healed' from Trump under Biden MORE’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaigns.

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

Updated at 8:20 p.m.