Senate Republicans may defy NRA on guns

Senate Republicans may defy NRA on guns
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans are expected to bring a bipartisan gun control bill to a vote this week despite opposition to the measure from the National Rifle Association and other conservative groups.

The measure, spearheaded by centrist GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks Overnight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all Dem group launches ads attacking Trump's 'hypocrisy on Medicare and Medicaid cuts' MORE (Maine), would block people on two terrorist watchlists from buying guns.

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Sources in both parties on Tuesday said the Collins legislation is gaining momentum — a sign that doing nothing to prevent terrorism suspects from obtaining guns is a problem for vulnerable Republicans in the wake of the Orlando nightclub shooting.

While the NRA is opposed to the measure, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellConservatives wage assault on Mueller report Overnight Energy: Interior reverses decision at heart of Zinke criminal probe | Dem divisions deepen over approach to climate change | GM to add 400 workers to build electric cars Trump: Green New Deal 'the most preposterous thing' and 'easy to beat' MORE (R-Ky.) is more focused on protecting his vulnerable incumbents and keeping control of the chamber in November, according to Senate GOP sources.

“He will not be dictated to,” one lawmaker said of the NRA’s efforts to pressure McConnell.

The Senate Democrat who launched last week’s filibuster on gun control depicted a vote on the Collins measure as a pivotal moment for the Senate, which on Monday rejected four other gun control bills.

“I think you’re seeing in real time the vice grip of the NRA loosening in this place,” said Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySanders: 'We must follow New Zealand's lead' and ban assault weapons The fear of colorectal cancer as a springboard for change Dems shift strategy for securing gun violence research funds MORE (D-Conn.). “This is a watershed moment whether this gets to the finish line or not. You have Republicans scrambling to try to find a way to remedy their no votes [Monday] night.”

Democrats and Republicans alike are strategizing over the Collins measure.

Both sides are trying to figure out how the vote might shape this fall’s elections, when Democrats could win back the Senate majority by netting just four Senate seats if they retain the White House.

Some Republicans suggested Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSuicide is not just a veteran problem — it is an American problem The Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game Bernie campaign 2.0 - he's in it to win it, this time around MORE (D-Nev.) and Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis Schumer4 in 5 Americans say they support net neutrality: poll GOP senator: Trump's criticism of McCain 'deplorable' Schumer to introduce bill naming Senate office building after McCain amid Trump uproar MORE (D-N.Y.) aren’t interested in a deal because they want to use gun control as a wedge issue in the fall against GOP 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.), Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteSchultz recruiting GOP insiders ahead of possible 2020 bid Bottom Line US, allies must stand in united opposition to Iran’s bad behavior MORE (N.H.), Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanTrump faces political risks in fight over GM plant GOP moves to rein in president's emergency powers The 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration MORE (Ohio), all of whom face challenging reelections in states won by President Obama in 2012.

“Sen. Schumer and Sen. Reid are discouraging Democrats from voting for it, trying to peel off those who have co-sponsored it because they, I don’t believe, really want to come up with a bipartisan solution. They’d just like to keep the issue alive,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynConservatives wage assault on Mueller report Senate GOP poised to go 'nuclear' on Trump picks GOP rep to introduce constitutional amendment to limit Supreme Court seats to 9 MORE (R-Texas) grumbled to reporters at one point on Tuesday.

Schumer on Tuesday argued that the Collins measure doesn’t go far enough and could put sensitive national security information in the public domain.

“We’ve just really gotten the language of Sen. Collins’s bill, and there [are] some potentially serious problems, fixable problems, but problems,” said Schumer, who is poised to become majority leader if Democrats capture the Senate.

He said the Collins amendment would not give the Justice Department authority to deny gun sales to nearly 900,000 foreigners in a federal terrorist screening database.

“That’s a real problem — many of these people would be on a terrorist watchlist,” he said, adding that eight of the nine attackers who unleashed a wave of violence in Paris last year could have come to the United States on visa waivers.

Sponsors estimate about 10 Senate Republicans are on board with the proposal, and a group of potential allies, including Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game GOP eager to exploit Dem court-packing fight Rubio's pragmatic thinking on China MORE (Fla.), a former GOP presidential candidate who is actively thinking about reversing course and running for reelection, are on the fence. 

Ayotte is a co-sponsor and appeared at a press conference with Collins and other supporters in both parties on Tuesday. Toomey also has announced he’ll support the measure.

Collins was spotted on the Senate floor Monday evening lobbying colleagues to back her amendment. At one point she, Ayotte and Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump's attacks on McCain exacerbate tensions with Senate GOP Schumer to introduce bill naming Senate office building after McCain amid Trump uproar Trump keeps tight grip on GOP MORE (R-Ariz.), another co-sponsor, huddled around Rubio to sell him on the proposal.

One Senate source involved in the negotiations said Rubio is “close” to backing the bill.

Portman and Kirk say they’re still evaluating it. 

“I haven’t decided,” Kirk told reporters.

McConnell has promised the group that he will set up a vote on the measure, and his leadership team isn’t whipping against it.

“We have not discussed it. I assume every senator will vote their own conscience,” Cornyn, the Republican whip, said.

GOP leaders say a vote could happen as soon as Thursday.

Passing any gun control measure less than five months from Election Day is an uphill battle.

But supporters of the newest effort led by Collins say Monday’s failed amendments were more of an effort by Democrats to score political points and Republicans to play defense than a good faith attempt to pass legislation.

“Realistically, if we have 40 [Democrats] and 20 [Republicans], we can get this done. We’re not there yet, but both sides are making good progress. Every time we talk, both sides have more people who want to do this,” said Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichDems introduce bill requiring disclosure of guest logs from White House, Trump properties Senate Dems seek to turn tables on GOP in climate change fight Senate Dems introduce bill demanding report on Khashoggi killing MORE (D-N.M.), a co-sponsor.  

Senate Republicans say Collins made a convincing pitch for her legislation at their weekly Tuesday lunch meeting.

“I hope we get a strong bipartisan showing,” said Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDem senator: 'Appropriate' for Barr, Mueller to testify publicly about Russia probe Conservatives wage assault on Mueller report Graham expects 'thorough' briefing on Mueller report MORE (R-S.C.), another co-sponsor.

“Here’s what you’re betting as a politician. If somebody on this no-fly list goes out and buys a gun tomorrow and kills a bunch of people, you’re in a world of hurt if you vote against this,” he said.

“I’m hopeful,” said Sen. David Purdue (R-Ga.). “We all want to preclude terrorists from getting guns. From what I’ve seen so far, I might very well be able to vote for it.”

The Collins measure differs in key ways from a broader proposal sponsored by Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDem senator: 'Appropriate' for Barr, Mueller to testify publicly about Russia probe GOP lawmaker offers constitutional amendment capping Supreme Court seats at 9 Overnight Energy: Judge halts drilling on Wyoming public lands over climate change | Dems demand details on Interior's offshore drilling plans | Trump mocks wind power MORE (D-Calif.) that was rejected on Monday night. 

The Collins legislation would allow the attorney general to block the sale of a gun if an individual is on the no-fly list or the so-called selectee list, which requires additional screening at an airport. 

Collins said the two lists affect approximately 109,000 people, most of whom are foreigners. 

The legislation would allow the decision to be appealed. If an appeal is successful, Collins said Americans and green card holders could get their attorney fees covered.

A vote on Thursday would be a test for the NRA, which has built its fearsome reputation on almost always winning political battles. A loss on Collins’s high-profile bill would dent its reputation of invincibility.

“Unfortunately, Senator Collins and others are focusing their efforts on unconstitutional proposals that would not have prevented the Orlando terrorist attack. The American people want Congress to stop playing politics and pass policies that will keep them safe from terrorists,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action.

Heritage Action for America, a conservative advocacy group, and Gun Owners of America have also come out against the amendment, arguing it would deprive people of their Second Amendment rights without due process.