Senate Republicans block Durbin, Schneider domestic terrorism bill; lax to act after Uvalde, Buffalo

Once again, Democrats are pushing for not the perfect, but at least some good when it comes to responding to mass shootings, the latest in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas.

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Illinois Democrats Rep. Brad Schneider (l) and Sen. Dick Durbin sponsored the Terrorism Prevention Act of 2022 which the House passed and the Senate Republicans blocked.

Illinois Democrats Rep. Brad Schneider (left) and Sen. Dick Durbin — pictured in 2013 — sponsored the Terrorism Prevention Act of 2022 which the House passed and the Senate Republicans blocked.

Sun-Times file

WASHINGTON — I dropped any optimism about Congress doing anything to curb gun violence after nothing happened following the Columbine school shootings in 1999, when I naively wrote something like, surely, now lawmakers will act.

Which brings us to Thursday.

Once again, Democrats are pushing for, at this point, not the perfect, but at least some good when it comes to responding to mass shootings, the latest in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas.

“Is Texas the tipping point? Is this what we’ve been waiting for?” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said on CNN, hours before the Senate was to vote on whether to advance the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2022.

Durbin, the Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, is the chief Senate sponsor of the measure; Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., is the main House sponsor. 

The House, in a May 18 roll call, passed the bill on a 222–203 party line roll call, with one key exception.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., is the only Republican in the House — and it turns out, in Congress — to vote for this measure to beef up the federal response to domestic terrorism.

Durbin and Schneider first introduced a version of this bill in 2017.

“Buffalo wasn’t the motivation for writing the bill,” Schneider said of the grocery store attack by a racist shooter that killed 10 Black people. “But Buffalo created impetus to bring the bill to a vote now.”

“The bill hasn’t changed,” Schneider told me. “The only thing that has changed is that the risks are greater. We saw that in Buffalo in absolute clarity.”

The 2022 measure requires the FBI, Justice Department and Homeland Security to bolster coordination, collect more data, report back to Congress twice a year and to include specifically “an assessment of the domestic terrorism threat posed by White supremacists and neo-Nazis, including White supremacist and neo-Nazi infiltration of Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies and the uniformed services.”

Senate Democrats had already scheduled a vote on whether to even debate the domestic terrorism prevention measure the House already approved before the horrific Tuesday massacre in Uvalde where 19 children and two teachers were killed.

On Thursday, the domestic terrorism bill had another purpose. Senate Democrats offered it up as a vehicle for Senate Republican amendments on any proposals they might have to deal with gun violence.

No one expected the bill would get the 60 votes needed to advance, with the Senate divided 50-50. The motion clearing the way for another motion to let the bill proceed failed on a 47-47 roll call.

Offering the amendment route — which would have forced Senate Republicans to vote to advance the Democratic terrorism prevention bill — seemed unrealistic to me, though it did serve to let Senate Democrats make their case — once again — that they want to negotiate with Republicans.

CNN was reporting later on Thursday that Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was huddling with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., “directed” Cornyn to work with Democrats to see if there were any bipartisan deals to be had. It would be a welcome surprise if McConnell delivered. NBC was reporting that a larger bipartisan group kicked off “informal” talks.

That Cornyn is from Texas may present — at this moment — an opening in the wake of the Uvalde slaughter. That the bombastic Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was so quick to dismiss changing gun laws — invoking shootings in Chicago while ignoring the fact that criminals in the city are using weapons purchased elsewhere — may add some complexity to Cornyn’s dealmaking ability.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., wants to suspend the rules requiring 60 votes for passage so Democrats can pass some gun safety reforms with 50 votes and Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie.

“Let’s show the nation that we value children’s lives more than an arcane Senate procedure rule,” Duckworth said in a Senate floor speech on Wednesday.

Senate Democrats are not united on whether to end the 60-vote threshold for guns — or anything else.

In the meantime, Duckworth said in that speech she had been “doom-scrolling” the night before, looking up “places to buy ballistic protective backpacks for my daughters, who are 4 and 7,” as well as “places to buy ballistic protective whiteboards that could be donated to my girls’ school that would act as a shield should an active shooter come to their school.”

Said Duckworth: “And it’s bad enough that I had felt that I had to do that. But the fact of the matter is, those pages were already bookmarked. Because it’s not the first time that I’ve had to look them up.”

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