Senate Democrats Say 15-Hour Debate Yields Deal on Gun Vote

Will We See Compromise on Gun Control in Congress?
  • Murphy ends marathon speeches after Republicans agree to deal
  • Vote to be held on barring terror suspects from acquiring guns

Senate Democrats ended a nearly 15-hour marathon of speeches on gun violence Thursday after they said Republican leaders agreed to hold votes on new gun limits in the wake of the Orlando massacre.

QuickTake Guns in America

The effort led by Connecticut Democrat Christopher Murphy ended at 2:11 a.m. Thursday after he announced that Republicans had committed to scheduling votes on measures including expanded background checks and barring suspected terrorists from purchasing weapons.

“We believe we have a commitment to bring these two votes before the Senate, either this week or next week,” Murphy said Thursday on CNN’s “New Day” program.

He earlier said he would stand “as long as I can” to force consideration of two gun-related amendments. One would bar purchases of weapons by anyone on the terrorist watch list and another would aim to extend background checks to cover weapons sold at gun shows.

Democrats are pressing Congress to act on those provisions after a gunman early last Sunday used an assault rifle and a pistol to kill 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando. The attack sparked renewed calls for gun-control measures, such as a ban on assault weapons, that Republicans have previously opposed.

Republican Support

The move by Democrats came after a few Republican senators in tough re-election fights -- Rob Portman of Ohio, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin -- indicated that the Senate should try to agree on a mechanism to keep guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists.

“I support the concept” of barring suspected terrorists “who are legitimately on the watch list” from getting guns, Portman told reporters. “There is a consensus around this place that if you are on a terrorist watch list you shouldn’t get a gun, so let’s try to figure it out.”

Ayotte told reporters that she favors “addressing people who are on the terror watch list” though it should be done “in a way that assures there is due process.” Johnson said Republicans are amenable to discussing the issue with Democrats, “but they’ve got to be willing to work with us.”

“Obviously no Republican wants a terrorist to get access to a firearm, but there has to be some due process,” said Johnson.


Toomey on the Floor

Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey, who’s also in a competitive race, briefly joined the Democrats on the floor Wednesday and called for a compromise between what Democrats have been demanding and what Republicans have offered in the past. Toomey has held discussions on writing a measure to prevent terrorists from obtaining firearms with a gun control advocacy group backed by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

“There’s an opportunity here, guys, to work together and find the solution,” he said. Later Wednesday, Toomey said he would introduce a new bill on Thursday that would allows the attorney general to create a list of “likely terrorists” who could be denied the ability to purchase a gun, with prior judicial review of the list.

But Chuck Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Senate Democrat, said Wednesday afternoon that “all the compromises” offered so far by Republicans are “not at all acceptable” to Democrats. Later in the day, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada dismissed Toomey’s proposal, saying it “would make it more difficult for law enforcement to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists.”

Language Unclear

Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, said that it was not clear what Republicans would agree to after they hold a caucus meeting on Thursday morning. Democrats have not seen any specific language of measures they would be allowed to vote on in the Senate, he said.

“What Chris Murphy did yesterday could very well be a game changer on this,” Cardin said Thursday on CNN’s “New Day” program. But he cautioned that “we have to make sure we have a proposal that can make a difference.”

Murphy said California Democrat Dianne Feinstein had modified her proposal to bar suspected terrorists from purchasing guns to address concerns raised by Republicans, and that a potential deal could emerge between the two parties.

Feinstein had told reporters she has incorporated new language in her proposal that would cover anyone who had been under investigation for terrorism in the past five years before trying to purchase a gun. That change would have covered Mateen’s gun purchases, she told reporters.

San Bernardino Shooting

Portman, Ayotte and Johnson were among 53 Republicans who voted in December Feinstein’s plan. North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp was the lone Democrat who voted with Republicans to defeat that amendment. It was offered in the wake of the Dec. 2 San Bernardino, California, shooting in which a gunman who pledged allegiance to Islamic State terrorist group and his wife killed 14 people and injured 21 others. The FBI has treated it as an act of terror.

Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, perhaps the most vulnerable Republican seeking re-election in November, was the only member of his party to support that measure.

A spokesman for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized Democrats for their extended speeches. Murphy’s effort “prevents the Senate from processing any amendments, including amendments he supports, as well as efforts proposed by Republicans to help prevent terrorist attacks here at home,” David Popp said in an e-mailed statement.

Trump, NRA

Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association indicated Wednesday that a meeting may be in the works to discuss ways to bar suspected terrorists from buying firearms.

“We are happy to meet with Donald Trump. The NRA’s position on this issue has not changed," said Chris Cox, a top lobbyist for the group.

“The NRA believes that terrorists should not be allowed to purchase or possess firearms, period,” Cox said. “At the same time, due process protections should be put in place that allow law-abiding Americans who are wrongly put on a watch list to be removed.”

Reid said Democrats will push a provision to empower the attorney general to block firearms sales if she has a reasonable belief the guns would be used in a terrorist attack.

Discussing Compromise

Reid told reporters he intends force a vote on the proposal as an amendment to H.R. 2578, the legislative vehicle for the Senate’s Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill that’s being debated this week. He didn’t specify how he would force consideration of the gun amendment, but Democrats could extend their speech-making session into a more formal filibuster to block advancement of the bill.

McConnell on Tuesday described his conference as open to considering proposals by FBI Director James Comey, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and others in law enforcement because “nobody wants terrorists to have firearms.”

Republicans would “try to work with the Democrats to try to come up with something that’s actually a solution,” Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas told reporters. But he accused Democrats of “trying to opportunistically use this as a way to advance their gun-control debate rather than solve the problem.”

72-Hour Delay

In December, many Republicans supported an alternative by Cornyn that would delay the sale for 72 hours before requiring the Justice Department to obtain an injunction by convincing a court that there was probable cause to believe the would-be purchaser was a suspected or known terrorist.

Portman said he still prefers Cornyn’s approach because it affords more “due process” for people who may be erroneously on a watch list. Portman said that the Orlando gunman, Omar Mateen, was not on the FBI’s watch list when he purchased the guns he used for his slaughter at the nightclub.

Democrats argue that Cornyn’s proposal would require the government to meet an unrealistic standard of proof and could compromise counter-terrorism investigations.

“The experts that have taken a look at this have determined that Senator Cornyn’s bill would do very little” to stop people who are on the watch list from buying a gun, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday.

Terrorist List

Toomey, in his brief floor appearance, said that Feinstein’s approach “doesn’t provide any meaningful opportunity to appeal one’s being put on this list erroneously” and that Cornyn’s "probably" doesn’t give the attorney general the opportunity needed “to make the case against someone who actually is a terrorist.”

Feinstein and Cornyn have been discussing how to find a compromise between their approaches. "We want to do it in a way that’s constitutional," Cornyn spokesman Drew Brandewie said.

But Schumer said the compromises offered by Republicans so far are not acceptable because they still contain "all kinds of hoops and ladders you have to jump through" to place someone on the watch list, "which makes the list virtually untenable."

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