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 FeinsteinHillicon Valley: Commerce extends Huawei waiver | Senate Dems unveil privacy bill priorities | House funding measure extends surveillance program | Trump to tour Apple factory | GOP bill would restrict US data going to China Senate Democrats unveil priorities for federal privacy bill Political purity tests are for losers 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 — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Trump wins 60 percent approval in rural areas of key states Pence to push new NAFTA deal in visit to Iowa MORE (N.D.) was the only Democrat to vote against it.

Only two Republicans backed the Feinstein  amendment: Sens. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkWhy Republicans are afraid to call a key witness in the impeachment inquiry Ex-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR Bottom Line MORE (Ill.) and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteGOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Key endorsements: A who's who in early states 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 MurphyLawmakers spar over upcoming Sondland testimony Johnson: Whistleblower 'exposed things that didn't need to be exposed' Sunday shows — Spotlight shifts to Sondland ahead of impeachment inquiry testimony 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) ManchinPolitical purity tests are for losers Former coal exec Don Blankenship launches third-party presidential bid Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda MORE (W.Va.), Heitkamp and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterTester: Our forefathers would not have tolerated Trump asking Ukraine to investigate Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Fallout from day one of Trump impeachment hearing Veterans face growing threat from online disinformation 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 PortmanWhy Republicans are afraid to call a key witness in the impeachment inquiry Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump GOP lawmakers fear Trump becoming too consumed by impeachment fight MORE (Ohio) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senator calls impeachment 'sabotage' effort, raises questions about witness on eve of testimony GOP invites Republican senator to provide information in impeachment inquiry Impeachment hearings don't move needle with Senate GOP 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 CornynImpeachment hearings don't move needle with Senate GOP GOP divided over impeachment trial strategy GOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial 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 DonnellyWatchdog accuses pro-Kavanaugh group of sending illegal robotexts in 2018 Lobbying world Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (Ind.) voted for it and three Republicans — Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsFeehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Progressive group to spend as much as M to turn out young voters Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families MORE (Maine), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (Ariz.) and Kirk — voted no.

The fourth amendment, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate aides met with tax return whistleblower: report Booker, Sanders propose new federal agency to control drug prices GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse 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 ReidHarry Reid: Early voting states Iowa, New Hampshire 'not representative of the country anymore' The Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary Bottom Line 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 McCainConservative group cuts ties with Michelle Malkin Democratic debate at Tyler Perry's could miss the mark with black voters Donald Trump's 2020 election economic gamble MORE’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaigns.

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

Updated at 8:20 p.m.