NotedDC — School shooting hits close to home for lawmakers
Shortly after Tuesday’s mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) begged for an answer to a question that has plagued him for nearly a decade: “What are we doing?”
Murphy became one of the Senate’s most outspoken gun control activists following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012, just a month after he was elected to the upper chamber.
“I want people to really understand what a little kid’s body looks like when it is riddled with holes from an AR-15,” Murphy said Wednesday.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) told NotedDC the tragedy is a reminder of political battles that lie ahead, saying his daughter — born a year after the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in the Denver suburb of Littleton, Colo. — “lives in a country where the United States Congress is refusing to even vote on this.”
Pleading with his Republican colleagues to work with him on passing gun control legislation, which he has introduced before, Murphy told reporters Wednesday that he “is a sucker for compromise on gun issues.”
He said he has been talking with Sen. John Cornyn on what such a bill could look like, saying the Texas Republican is “a good man and his heart is breaking.”
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer is less optimistic that any sort of bill could reach 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, saying Wednesday he will wait until Murphy and other Democrats are successful in negotiations.
“If we fail — and we failed before — then certainly this ultimately becomes a choice for the voters,” Murphy said.
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What comes next on gun control legislation
A bipartisan bill addressing gun control could appear on the Senate floor “in the next week or so” if negotiations with Republicans prove successful, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told reporters Wednesday.
On the House side, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday the House will pass Rep. Lucy McBath’s (D-Ga.) red flag bill “to establish extreme risk protection orders nationwide, which will help keep guns out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves or others.”
The Hill’s Emily Brooks and Mike Lillis break down some gun bills stalled in Congress that may appear on the floor:
- The Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021: Passed by the House in March 2021, it would strike the provision that allows some sales to proceed without a background check if the screening is not complete within three days
- Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021: Also passed by the House in March 2021, it would expand background checks for all gun sales and transfers
Worth noting: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key swing vote, signaled Wednesday afternoon that red flag laws are likely to be on the table.
Stakes raised for Biden’s ATF nominee
President Biden’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Steve Dettelbach, is facing questions from members of both parties, even as a string of mass shootings inject a sense of urgency into the confirmation fight.
Democrats’ biggest hurdle comes with securing the votes of Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), both of whom were skeptical of Biden’s first ATF nominee, David Chipman, who withdrew in September amid strong GOP opposition.
Tester’s spokesperson told NotedDC the senator will be “closely reviewing Mr. Dettelbach’s record” to ensure he would support law enforcement and the Second Amendment, while a spokesperson for Manchin did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Wednesday’s hearing swayed him either direction.
One Democratic defection would sink the confirmation.
One bit of good news for Democrats: Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who reportedly opposed Chipman, told CNN’s Manu Raju after Wednesday’s hearing that he is “inclined to support” Dettelbach.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) preemptively slammed Republicans for opposing Dettelbach’s confirmation, describing it as “the one law enforcement agency that we have Republicans wanting to defund and strangle.”
Dettelbach would be the first permanent ATF director since 2015.
BIDEN TURNS TO POLICE REFORM
It’s been two years since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, with no meaningful action from Congress on police reform efforts.
Now, President Biden is marking the two-year anniversary of Floyd’s death calling for a national database of officers who have been fired for misconduct and requiring federal agencies to update their policies on use of force.
The database of disciplinary records will apply to federal officers and state and local jurisdictions that partner with the federal government on joint task forces.
The order bans federal officers from using chokeholds except in limited instances and curbs federal law enforcement’s use of no-knock warrants.
Ben Crump, the attorney who has represented Floyd’s family, told NotedDC that the order signals “incremental progress.”
“While this action does not have the long-term impact that we had hoped for with the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, it does represent incremental progress, and we need to commit ourselves to making progress every day because the safety of our children is worth the fight,” Crump and co-counsels Antonio Romanucci and Jeff Storms said in a statement to The Hill after Biden signed the order. “This is a start that should serve as a model for law enforcement everywhere.”
Remember: The federal government has grappled with police reform for years. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) had tried to broker a bipartisan agreement on policing reform legislation, but those talks fizzled last year.
Former President Trump, after a private meeting with families of victims and after viewing the video of Floyd’s death, in June 2020 unveiled an executive order that was intended to set up a national police misconduct database, among other measures.
NRA convention moves forward
Several high-profile Republicans are planning to still attend the National Rifle Association‘s (NRA) annual leadership forum in Houston this week, which Democrats have urge be scrapped or moved following the mass shooting in Uvalde.
Former President Trump on Wednesday released a statement defending his decision to still speak at the event on Friday. “In the meantime, we all continue to pray for the victims, their families and for our entire nation — we are all in this together,” he said, referring to the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, about 85 miles west of San Antonio.
A spokesperson for the NRA didn’t immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment on potential changes for the convention following the shooting.
Other Republicans slated to attend the event include Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. All three took part in a news conference Wednesday providing an update on the elementary school shooting and expressing sympathy to the families of the 19 children and two teachers who were killed.
Abbott called the shooting “horrible,” but added that “it could have been worse.”
Flashback: In November, NPR reported on a leaked recording of a discussion that NRA leaders had after the deadly school shooting at Columbine. Their convention, scheduled to be held in Denver just days later in 1999, went ahead in a scaled-back format.
White House official says inflation No. 1 priority
As Republicans continue to slam President Biden on record levels of inflation, White House officials say fixing it is their number one priority.
During The Hill’s Advancing America’s Economy event Wednesday, the White House National Economic Council deputy director David Kamin touted Biden’s four-point plan, which includes releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and lowering daily costs for Americans.
While the Federal Reserve is tasked with handling inflation — and has been criticized for waiting too long to raise interest rates — Biden has been unable to effectively deflect the blame, with it now polling as one of the top issue for voters.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) admitted that “the bad news is people are very concerned about inflation” but said there is strong economic growth.
Not swaying from what Republicans see as their strongest message, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) said the Biden administration has been unable “to actually tackle the issue and bring relief to the American people.”
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