Gun bill progress reflects political shift, but GOP support is weak

WASHINGTON. Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst weighed whether she should vote for reelection bipartisan arms reform measurethe phone lines in her offices were filled with voters hoping to influence her.

She estimated that the calls came in from about six to one with an urgent message: “Please do something.”

On Tuesday, Ms. Ernst became one of 14 Republicans who broke with their party to support the passage of the law, pushing it through a Republican blockade that thwarted years of efforts to overhaul national gun laws. The vote was evidence that lawmakers from both political parties were moved to action by the horror of successive mass shootings, including a racist massacre that killed 10 blacks in Buffalo and a riot at an elementary school in Uvalda. Texas, which killed 19 children and two teachers.

“I’ve even talked to Republican lawmakers in Iowa and they said, ‘We’re hearing about this issue from our constituents too,'” Ms. Ernst, Republican No. 5, said, adding, “So I think people understand that something needs to be done.”

But the list of defectors also showed the fragility of a coalition willing to make even modest compromises on weapons, and the political danger that most Republicans still see in supporting any new laws on the issue. He suggests that this is far from a radical shift that could usher in a new era of consensus on fighting gun violence in America. strongly opposed to this.

Only two of the 14 Senate Republicans who stepped out to support him are up for re-election this year, and for various reasons, none of them are particularly concerned about losing support from their party’s conservative base.

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who voted to convict President Donald J. Trump in the 2021 impeachment trial and is running for re-election as a moderate, has been repeatedly honored by voters for her independent streak. Senator Todd Young of Indiana won an uncontested primary in his conservative state.

Three defectors – Senators Rob Portman of Ohio, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Richard M. Burr of North Carolina – are set to leave Congress at the end of the year. The rest, including Ms Ernst, who won a second term in 2020, will not face the voters for years.

This includes Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, a minority leader whose willingness to pass the bill was a sign that some Republicans calculated that, given the scale of public outrage over the mass shootings, their party could not afford to have their party perceived as blocking a modest compromise in on gun safety in an election year.

“If we’re making things safer without taking away people’s Second Amendment rights, I think maybe we’ve tied it up just the way it should have been,” Ms Murkowski said.

The bill has yet to gain approval in the Senate, where Democratic leaders hope to push it through by the end of the week and make it to the House of Representatives before it hits President Biden’s desk.

The legislation, which was being debated by a small group of Democrats and Republicans, would expand background checks to give authorities more time to investigate the mental health and history of underage potential buyers under the age of 21 and include serious dating partners for the first time. in a law banning domestic rapists from buying firearms. It will provide federal money for states to pass “red flag” laws that allow the temporary confiscation of guns from people deemed dangerous and other intervention programs, as well as millions of dollars to support mental health resources and improve school safety.

“There are mixed opinions within the country, but overall the reaction has been positive because people understand that we are not harming law-abiding gun owners,” said Senator Susan Collins of Maine, one of the Republicans who participated in the discussions.

A vote of 64-34 in favor of passing it signaled that the measure has more than enough support to increase the 60-vote threshold needed to pass the Republican filibuster, a barrier that has repeatedly stalled more ambitious efforts to combat gun violence. But less than a third of the Republican conference, including members of Mr. McConnell’s leadership team, were ready to support him on Tuesday. (Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, the Pennsylvania Republican who is retiring this year, was absent but said in a statement that he supported the measure.)

To win over the Republicans, the negotiators, as well as Mr. McConnell, worked to highlight the bill’s contribution to mental health issues and their success in keeping its scope much narrower than the Democrats wanted. More ambitious proposals were put forward by Democratic negotiators, including a ban on the sale of semi-automatic weapons to buyers under the age of 21 and other restrictions on firearms, which were passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives but stood no chance in the equally divided Senate.

“Read the bill and let’s talk about what’s on your mind,” said Senator Tom Tillis of North Carolina, a key GOP negotiator. “When you position it that way and people fully understand what we do and, more importantly, what we don’t do, it’s not hard for me to lead a discussion in North Carolina.”

But it is expected that the majority of Republicans in Congress will continue to oppose the compromise, considering it excessive. House Republican leaders on Wednesday formally called on grassroots lawmakers to oppose the measure, arguing that it “takes the wrong approach in trying to curb violent crime” in a notice circulated to offices.

As in the Senate, the few House Republicans who said they would support the measure are heading for the exit. Representative John Catko, the New York Republican who announced his resignation, said on Wednesday the measure “sends a clear message that Congress can work together to keep Americans safe.”

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the leading Republican negotiator, was booed at his state’s convention over the weekend, and Texas Republicans went so far as to chide a senior lawmaker and eight Republicans who signed on to the original bipartisan plan. In addition to the backlash from the party’s right, Rep. Matt Goetz, a Florida Republican, branded 14 Republicans “traitors to the Constitution and our country.”

But many of those Republicans defended the measure on Wednesday as a worthy compromise.

“When people say, ‘Is there something you can’t do?’ the answer is yes,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and one of the Republicans who worked on gun legislation in the past. He added: “There are always concerns. You can’t please everyone.”

Senators and aides said the talks were aided by leaders from both parties, who gave grassroots lawmakers time to reach an agreement, as well as a willingness to drop political positions that could alienate either side.

“I think the American people want us to do something — instead of wringing our hands and blaming the school system, parents, or guns,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, one of the Republican supporters.

Ms Capito did not approve of the compromise plan agreed this month. But when she returned home to West Virginia last week, she said, the message she heard from her constituents was different: “Do something.”

“This is the right thing to do,” she concluded. “That’s why I did it. That’s why I voted for him.”

Ms Ernst, like other senators who voted to move the measure, said she and her staff lacked the job of educating voters who had misconceptions about the law’s impact on gun owners.

“If they knew and understood the bill, I think they would be more supportive of it rather than clinging to the latest myth or popular opinion,” she said.

There is no guarantee that all Republicans who voted to move the bill will eventually support it.

Mr. Yang suggested that he is still studying the details of the legislation, including pushing for details to determine if there are legitimate concerns about violating Second Amendment rights.

“We didn’t have enough time to review the text and get the views of various stakeholders and experts on it,” Mr. Yang said on Wednesday. “I remain open to support. I also remain open to not supporting him.”

Stephanie Lai as well as Kathy Edmondson made a report.

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