Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked a bill designed to combat domestic terrorism from advancing in a key vote. The vote comes as lawmakers are under intense pressure to take action in the wake of multiple recent episodes of horrific gun violence.
The bill passed the Democratic-controlled House last week following a tragic mass shooting at a supermarket in a predominately Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York. But Republicans have pushed back against the measure put forward by Democrats, describing it as partisan and unnecessary.
At least 10 Senate Republicans would have needed to vote with Democrats to overcome the 60-vote threshold imposed by the filibuster.
The failure of the domestic terrorism bill in the Senate underscores yet again how challenging it is for lawmakers to enact any kind of major policy change in the wake of mass shootings amid a highly polarized political environment and widespread GOP opposition to stricter gun controls.
Only one Republican -- Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois -- voted for the measure when the Democrat-led House approved it after the Buffalo supermarket shooting. The Justice Department is investigating that shooting as a hate crime and "an act of racially-motivated violent extremism."
The nation was rocked by another devastating mass shooting on Tuesday when an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two adults at a Texas elementary school before he was killed by law enforcement officers, officials said.
The elementary school shooting has sparked impassioned calls from Democrats for legislation to counter gun violence and renewed a debate over gun control on Capitol Hill, but it appears highly unlikely that the long-lasting and deeply entrenched partisan stalemate over gun control will be broken.
The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2022 would set up offices specifically focused on domestic terrorism at the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the FBI.
The offices would track and analyze domestic terrorist activity with the goal of better preparing the federal government to identify risks in order to take preventative action.
The bill creates a requirement for biannual reporting on domestic terrorism threats. It also calls for assessments of the threat posed specifically by White supremacists and neo-Nazis.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune, who represents South Dakota, said Wednesday it is "unlikely" that 10 Republicans would vote to advance the House-passed domestic terrorism bill because, he said, the White House and Department of Justice have indicated they already have the authorities legislated in the bill.
"It's a lot of stuff they already have authority to do," Thune said, providing the first formal confirmation from a GOP leader that the bill, which is a top priority for Democrats, won't pass the Senate.
Ahead of the vote Thursday morning, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called for the Senate to take up the House-passed bill, but acknowledged it was unlikely to advance amid GOP opposition.
"Today the Senate will have a chance to act on a pernicious issue that has recently become an increasingly prevalent component in America's gun violence epidemic -- the evil spread of white supremacy and domestic terrorism," he said.
But Schumer added, "I know the chances of getting 10 votes on this bill are small unfortunately given the influence of MAGA Republicans." He went on to say, "there are a lot of MAGA Republicans for whom no amount of gun violence -- whether it's domestic terrorism, a school shooting, a neighborhood shooting or something else, will ever, ever convince them to take any action."
Schumer indicated Democrats are willing to give some time and space for efforts to reach some kind of bipartisan compromise on gun legislation though he noted the odds are long. He also made clear that these efforts will not be given an unlimited amount of time to play out, and that if they fail the Senate will move forward with votes on gun safety legislation.
"We have to try everything. We must not leave a single stone unturned," he said.
But he added, "this is not an invite to negotiate indefinitely. Make no mistake about it, if these negotiations do not bear fruit in a short period of time, the Senate will vote on gun safety legislation," he said.
Senate Democrats took steps on Tuesday night to place two House-passed background checks bills onto the legislative calendar so they can be voted on. It's unclear, however, when the Senate might vote on the measures and they would not be expected to overcome a GOP filibuster.
GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky criticized the domestic terrorism bill in a floor speech Thursday ahead of the vote.
"Today we will have a bill before us ostensibly titled and ostensibly about the subject of domestic terrorism. But this bill would be more accurately called the Democrat plan to brand and insult our police and soldiers as White supremacists and neo-Nazis -- how insulting," he said.
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