Senate GOP poised to block domestic terror bill in first test after Buffalo, Uvalde shootings

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Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked a bill aimed at focusing the federal government on combating domestic terrorism, in what amounted to Congress’s first opportunity to pass legislation responding to recent mass shootings.

The vote was 47-to-47, short of the 60-vote threshold to move ahead on the measure.

Democrats moved the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act through the House last week and to the Senate floor this week in response to the May 14 killing of 10 people at a Buffalo supermarket, most of them Black, by a gunman who authorities say espoused White supremacy.

Now, with Tuesday’s massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex., front and center, Senate Democrats were pitching the domestic terrorism legislation as the chamber’s first opportunity to do something — anything — to combat the scourge of mass shootings in America. However, they are not finding much, if any, Republican support.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday said the bill, which passed the House largely on party lines, constitutes “a necessary and timely step to honor the memories of the dead in Buffalo, and to make sure mass shootings motivated by race don’t happen again.”

But he also said Thursday’s procedural vote was an opportunity to start debating the gun control proposals that have emerged in the aftermath of Tuesday’s rampage inside Robb Elementary School, where an 18-year-old with a newly purchased AR-style rifle killed 19 fourth-graders and two teachers.

“If Republicans can vote with us to get on that bill, we can have a debate on considering common-sense, strong gun safety amendments, hopefully with bipartisan support,” Schumer added. “The American people are tired of moments of silence, tired of the kind words offering thoughts and prayers.”

Republicans, however, not only said it was premature to debate a response to the recent mass shootings, they expressed serious qualms about the content of the domestic terrorism bill itself. They echoed House GOP concerns that its provisions would lead to “targeting” of conservatives by the Justice Department, among other concerns.

House passes bill targeting domestic terrorism in wake of Buffalo mass shooting

The bill requires the FBI, Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to create specific domestic terrorism bureaus and for each agency to jointly report twice yearly, including specific assessments of the “threat posed by White supremacists and neo-Nazis.” The bill also directs the agencies to focus on the infiltration by White racist groups of law enforcement and corrections agencies as well as the military, creating an interagency task force to do so.

Advancing the bill to a debate required the support of at least 10 Republicans due to the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster rule. But GOP support was difficult to find inside the Senate this week.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said earlier this week that the bill was “redundant” and would detract from the federal government’s “ability to flexibly deal with other forms of terrorism.”

“There’s a downside to duplicating authorities and to stovepiping resources,” he said.

Asked if White supremacy and neo-Nazism were domestic threats worthy of specific focus by Congress, Cornyn made reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s baseless “de-Nazification” justification for his invasion of Ukraine.

“Mr. Putin is seeing Nazis in Ukraine. I guess our Democratic colleagues are focused on Nazis in America,” he said. “I don’t know. It just doesn’t make any sense to me at all.”

Another Republican, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) dismissed the bill as “pure messaging” and “trying to take advantage of people’s grief.”

“I don’t see how having an extremism statute makes anybody’s death more comforting or any less likely,” he said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) noted Wednesday that the FBI itself has identified a growing domestic terror threat, including from White supremacist groups, and said that it was time for Congress to act.

“Time and again, the Senate has failed to take any meaningful steps to prevent violent extremism,” he said. “When exactly did stopping mass murder become a partisan issue?”

While Thursday’s vote failed, it is not expected to be the end of Senate discussions about a possible congressional response to Buffalo and Uvalde.

Schumer has tasked Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and a small group of other Democratic senators to seek compromise with Republicans on a limited expansion of gun restrictions — rekindling a quest that has repeatedly failed going back nearly a decade to the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. The talks will proceed after senators leave Washington Thursday for a week-long Memorial Day recess.

“The plan is to work hard at a compromise for the next 10 days,” Murphy said on Twitter Wednesday. “Hopefully we succeed and the Senate can vote on a bipartisan bill that saves lives. But if we can’t find common ground, then we are going to take a vote on gun violence. The Senate will not ignore this crisis.”

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