10 Republicans backing Senate gun safety proposal face stiff test
The GOP coalition of 10 senators supporting a framework proposal to respond to the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, is set to come under intense pressure in the next several weeks as it seeks to prevent even a single defection that could scuttle the long-sought deal.
The bipartisan framework, which calls for providing money to states to set up red flag laws and expanding funding for mental health services, has just enough Republican support to overcome a filibuster, as every single member of the Senate Democratic Conference supports it.
A big question is how hard the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun rights groups will lobby against the legislation and whether they will downgrade the ratings of Republican senators who vote for it.
Many of the Republicans who signed on to the bipartisan proposal unveiled Sunday have “A-plus” or “A” ratings from the NRA, which hasn’t yet taken a stance on it.
Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the lead Republican negotiator, noted Monday that the NRA has pledged to stay neutral until the legislative text of the bill is unveiled.
The powerful gun rights group said Sunday that it won’t take a position on the framework made public over the weekend.
“We will make our position known when the full text of the bill is available for review,” the NRA said in a statement.
“The NRA will continue to oppose any effort to insert gun control policies, initiatives that override constitutional due process protections and efforts to deprive law-abiding citizens of their fundamental right to protect themselves and their loved ones into this or any other legislation,” the group said.
Cornyn expressed hope the Republican coalition will remain intact no matter what kind of pushback it gets from outside groups.
“We want broad support from anybody who will give it, because that will help us build the vote, but I don’t think any single organization will control the outcome,” he said.
In addition to Cornyn, GOP Sens. Thom Tillis (N.C.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Susan Collins (Maine), Mitt Romney (Utah) and Bill Cassidy (La.) also endorsed the bipartisan framework.
Blunt, who has an A-rating from the NRA, said he could see more than 10 Republicans ultimately voting for the legislation.
“We need to see the final legislation before you can really answer that but I think there’ll be more than 10,” he said.
Four of the signatories — Blunt, Burr, Portman and Toomey — plan to retire at the end of the year.
The bill got a boost Sunday when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) encouraged the talks to continue.
But other members of his leadership team, including Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.), Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said they would need to review the legislative text before deciding how to vote.
One big question that has yet to be resolved is how much the package will cost and how it will be paid for so as not to add to the deficit.
Republican negotiators say the mental health component of the bill will cost roughly $7 billion.
Cornyn said it could be paid for by unspent funding allocated by last year’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Other Republicans have floated using unspent COVID-19 relief money.
Asked to evaluate the strength of support from the 10 Republicans who endorsed the framework, Cornyn on Monday called them “rock solid.”
Republicans involved in the talks say they shut down proposals from Democrats to restrict gun purchases by expanding background checks and raising the minimum age for purchasing AR-15–style rifles from 18 to 21.
Cornyn made it clear early in the talks that he would not support raising the minimum age for buying assault-style rifles or an expansion of background checks along the lines of what Toomey and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) negotiated in 2013.
Cornyn on Monday ticked through the list of Democratic proposals he rejected during the negotiations.
Those reforms included universal background checks, an assault weapons ban for 18- to 21-year-olds, a mandatory waiting period for all gun sales, a 21-day waiting period for the purchases of all guns by 18- to 21-year-olds and a ban on the sale of high-capacity magazines.
Republicans also rejected mandatory safe storage requirements for firearms at home and new criminal penalties for negligent storage of guns.
Even so, Republican senators who endorsed the framework will come under attack from some conservatives who don’t want to spend taxpayer money to incentivize states to set up red flag laws to take guns away from people who are deemed dangers to the community.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) earlier this month denounced red flag laws as “unconstitutional.”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Monday predicted that GOP colleagues will come under heavy pressure to back away from the bipartisan framework.
“Well, they have put targets on their backs, so to speak,” he said. “They’ve identified themselves. They’ve stuck their necks out. I’m sure they’re going to take some grief and pressure on it. But I think they’re going to stick with it.”
One proposal included in the framework that could run into opposition from Republicans and conservative activists is language that would close the so-called boyfriend loophole.
Federal law currently bars current or former spouses and current or former cohabitants from possessing a firearm if convicted of a domestic violence offence, but that does not apply to dating partners.
An effort to include a provision to close the boyfriend loophole in a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act failed earlier this year because of GOP objections.
Senators and Senate aides warn there’s still a lot of work to be done before the legislation is drafted, and negotiators still have to hammer out details and funding levels.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) promised to bring the bill to the floor once negotiators produce the final draft.
“Make no mistake about it, we have a lot of work left to do before we actually pass a bill, but yesterday’s announcement was a positive and necessary step in the right direction. Now comes the important work of turning this framework into legislation and legislative language that can pass Congress and be signed by the president,” he said on the floor Monday.
Durbin, who is also chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he spoke to Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.), the lead Democratic negotiator, and offered committee resources to help with the complex process of drafting legislation.
Cornyn said his plan is to complete drafting the bill by Thursday or Friday so Schumer can bring it to the floor next week.
“My hope is we can get that done this week and have the vote … next week,” he said. “We’ve been talking about this for three weeks.”
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