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 FeinsteinFeinstein says she thinks Biden will run after meeting with him Trump judicial nominee Neomi Rao seeks to clarify past remarks on date rape Bottom Line 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 HeitkampOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary On The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction MORE (N.D.) was the only Democrat to vote against it.

Only two Republicans backed the Feinstein  amendment: Sens. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkThe global reality behind 'local' problems Dems vow swift action on gun reform next year This week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill MORE (Ill.) and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteUS, allies must stand in united opposition to Iran’s bad behavior American military superiority will fade without bold national action Five possible successors to Mattis 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 MurphyHouse passes bill to end US support for Saudi war in Yemen This week: Border deal remains elusive as shutdown looms Border talks stall as another shutdown looms 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) ManchinSenate confirms Trump pick William Barr as new attorney general GOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate Senate poised to confirm Trump’s attorney general pick MORE (W.Va.), Heitkamp and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterHow the border deal came together GOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration Border talks stall as another shutdown looms 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 PortmanSteel lobby's PR blitz can't paper over damaging effects of tariffs Trade official warns senators of obstacles to quick China deal Lawmakers divided over how to end shutdowns for good MORE (Ohio) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senator voices concern about Trump order, hasn't decided whether he'll back it GOP braces for Trump's emergency declaration GOP wants to pit Ocasio-Cortez against Democrats in the Senate 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 CornynPoll shows competitive matchup if O’Rourke ran for Senate again On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week How the border deal came together 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 DonnellyOvernight Energy: Trump taps ex-oil lobbyist Bernhardt to lead Interior | Bernhardt slams Obama officials for agency's ethics issues | Head of major green group steps down Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks MORE (Ind.) voted for it and three Republicans — Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCongress must step up to protect Medicare home health care Business, conservative groups slam Trump’s national emergency declaration The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration MORE (Maine), Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Live coverage: Trump delivers State of the Union Sasse’s jabs at Trump spark talk of primary challenger MORE (Ariz.) and Kirk — voted no.

The fourth amendment, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyHigh stakes as Trump, Dems open drug price talks Senate approves border bill that prevents shutdown Grassley raises voice after McConnell interrupts Senate speech 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 ReidConstitutional conservatives need to oppose the national emergency Klobuchar: 'I don't remember' conversation with Reid over alleged staff mistreatment Dems wary of killing off filibuster 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 McCainPence met with silence after mentioning Trump in Munich speech Mark Kelly's campaign raises over M in days after launching Senate bid The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers wait for Trump's next move on border deal MORE’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaigns.

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

Updated at 8:20 p.m.