With House Democrats having passed a sweeping gun reform package Wednesday and senators working on an elusive compromise, House Republicans are on a totally different page — sounding the alarm on attempts to “destroy the Second Amendment.”
“You better believe I am going to have a way to protect myself. I will continue to carry,” Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) pledged, calling it her “great equalizer.”
That’s a stark contrast from Republicans across the Capitol, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has blessed a bipartisan group that is trying to craft a narrower deal, with 10 senators meeting for about an hour Wednesday.
The split-screen dichotomy on gun reforms in the wake of high-profile mass shootings is underscoring one of the fundamental truths of Washington: House and Senate Republicans belong to the same party, but they frequently tune out the other chamber. The two are taking different approaches to the Jan. 6 hearings and House Republicans largely balked at deals on infrastructure, funding the government and the debt ceiling that were negotiated by Senate Republicans.
The House legislation — which passed 223-204 — raises the age for purchasing semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, bans high-capacity magazines, requires a background check for buying a “ghost gun” and includes safe storage requirements for firearms.
“The Senate and the House are different places and people have their own districts and there’s a lot of diversity,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a key negotiator on gun talks, said in a brief interview.
That’s not to say the Senate GOP is entirely gung-ho, either. Despite backing from GOP leadership, some members raised concerns broadly about the discussions during a private caucus lunch Wednesday, according to several attendees. One GOP senator, granted anonymity to speak candidly, asked after the lunch: “Why the hell are we doing this?”
Cornyn, who provided an update at the lunch, described it as “part of the normal process” and said: “Everyone’s got a right to offer their point of view.”
House GOP leadership leaned on their members to vote against the bill on final passage, saying in a notice to Republican offices that Democrats had “thrown together this reactionary package … that egregiously violates law-abiding citizens’ 2nd Amendment rights” and had “made little to no effort to engage Republicans.”
In the end five House Republicans voted for the bill: Chris Jacobs (N.Y.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.). Only one of those Republicans, Fitzpatrick, is on the ballot in November.
Two Democrats voted against the bill: Jared Golden (Maine) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.).
To try to build pressure on Republicans, and mollify moderate House Democrats, the House voted on each piece of the bill in addition to a final vote on the full bill.
Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) left the door open to some Republicans voting for individual pieces of the bill, even if they opposed it on final passage.
“We know some members of our caucus who support some of those components,” he said.
In the end, 10 House Republicans supported the provision on increasing the age for semi-automatic rifles, seven Republicans voted for a provision related to gun trafficking purchases, eight Republicans backed requiring a background checks for ghost guns, three Republicans voted for a provision related to the safe storage of firearms, 13 House Republicans voted for language banning bump stocks gun attachments, and four supported banning the sale of high-capacity magazines. Republicans voted in mass for another provision related to reports on the National Instant Criminal Background Check system.
The House is also expected to vote Thursday on so-called red flag legislation, which allows for the temporary confiscation of firearms from people deemed a risk to themselves or others. The bill includes language to satisfy both progressive and moderate Democrats — portions submitted by Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) would establish a red flag procedure in federal courts, allowing police and individuals to seek extreme risk protection orders for the temporary seizure of firearms.
In addition, provisions from Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.) would use Justice Department grants to encourage states to pass their own red flag laws.
But the House bills are going nowhere in the Senate, where it will face a guaranteed GOP filibuster.
Instead, a bipartisan Senate group is crafting a narrow bill with the hope of being able to pick up at least 70 votes, according to negotiators. Those talks are focused on incentivizing states to pass “red flag” laws, tightening background checks and more money for school security and mental health.
That group that met Wednesday consisted of Cornyn, Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Chris Coons (D-Del) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
“There’s the most common ground around mental health spending because it’s not as complicated politically,” Murphy said after the meeting.
Cornyn is also getting feedback from some House Republicans. He cautioned that while he’s got his “hands full” with the Senate, he knows “they’re paying attention” across the Capitol.
“Some encouraging words. Others like, you know, people calling me saying, ‘what are guys doing over there?’” Cornyn said about the feedback he’s getting from House Republicans.
One group of House Republicans, in particular, is paying close attention: Those who belong to the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. That caucus was briefed Wednesday by Sinema about the fate of the other chamber’s bipartisan gun talks. If a deal does materialize, those GOP votes could be critical if any progressive Democrats threaten to oppose a final package they argue is too narrow.
The House GOP is also pushing for their own legislation. Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) has introduced legislation that would provide more money for school resources officers, guidance counselors and school safety-related grants. The $7 billion legislation would be paid for by repurposing coronavirus money.
House Republicans also pointed to nearly a dozen other bills that their members have introduced on gun violence and school safety.
“We’re not part of the Senate negotiations,” Scalise said. “We’ll surely look at what they do have but like I said, in the meantime, we have been working on some things ourselves that are focused on confronting the problem.”
There’s also pushback from House Republicans, including from Scalise, over “red flag” laws.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said he couldn’t support legislation that incentivized states to create red flag laws, as the Senate negotiators are considering.
“I think that is completely wrong,” Jordan said on incentivizing states. “I think it’s a terrible idea and I hope the Senate, I hope they don’t do it.”
Marianne LeVine and Sarah Ferris contributed to this report
Powered by WPeMatico