Policy riders toughening gun laws could be pushed for appropriations bills following the nation’s worst mass shooting, as Senate Democrats call the Republican-led Congress “complicit” in the Orlando tragedy by not taking gun control action sooner.
With appropriations season inside the Capitol well underway, amendments to spending bills are the most likely avenue for Democrats to refresh their attempts at greater gun control and Republicans to press for wider anti-terror action, following the deaths of 50 people inside a nightclub early Sunday.
The Commerce-Justice-Science bill, which funds the FBI and other federal law enforcement, is expected to be debated on the Senate floor in coming days.
At least three Democrats, so far, have called Congress “complicit” in the shooting for not passing stricter gun laws.
“These mass shootings follow an increasingly tragic script: the public is heartbroken and outraged, first responders and law enforcement do their grim duty, and Congress proposes a slew of policy proposals and argues over whether any of them could have prevented the last tragedy,” Senate Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois said in a statement. “But when the debates end and nothing has changed, Congress makes itself complicit in the next killing.”
“We have the power to act, and we must,” he continued. “The bottom line is that we allow dangerous people to buy guns in America and that has got to change. In the coming days, Congress must take a stand against hate, terrorism, and this horrific gun violence.”
Meanwhile, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump released a statement that called for President Barack Obama to “step down” because he didn’t include the words “radical Islam” in his remarks following the attack.
On policy, Trump’s statement focuses primarily on what he says is the weakness of leaders in responding to terrorism and the need for increased screening of Middle Eastern migrants.
Senate Republican leaders likely will be asked to take a position on Trump’s remarks, which could draw attention away from Democratic efforts to make the Orlando tragedy the impetus for a conversation about federal gun laws.
The possibility of Democratically written gun control bills, such as a proposal from Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey to prevent anyone convicted of a hate crime from purchasing a gun, making it to the floor of a Republican-led Senate is highly unlikely. That puts Democrats’ best chances of taking a stand on gun sales within policy riders to spending bills.
When asked whether Senate Democrats would push the gun issue in response to the shooting on the $56.3 billion Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill, a senior Senate Democratic aide speaking on background told CQ Roll Call that Democrats are discussing the best way to proceed and haven’t ruled anything out.
The Senate is the most likely venue for this, considering House Republicans are expected to add a structured rule to all spending bills and would not likely let any such amendment progress through the Rules Committee to the floor.
The House will, however, take up the $575.8 billion fiscal 2017 Defense spending bill this week. That would be one place Republicans could offer amendments to increase spending and resources for the war on terror.
On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee also will vote on the Homeland Security spending bill. The Senate panel approved its version in May.
Key roadblocks that House Speaker Paul D. Ryan , R-Wis., could run into if he wants more money for anti-terror efforts are the discretionary budget caps enacted in the budget agreement reached last October; $551 billion for defense and $518.5 billion for nondefense.
To stay within those caps, he’ll have to cut from somewhere else within the spending bill. To increase allocations above the caps, he’ll face a demand from Democrats to increase nondefense spending at equal levels.
Any increases in spending could be opposed by the conservative Freedom Caucus, which held up a floor vote on the fiscal 2017 budget resolution earlier this year, because members wanted $30 billion cut from mandatory programs, among other changes.
Appropriators may contemplate funding to counter terrorism as federal agencies are just beginning to ramp up an effort to combat the spread of radical ideology online. Congress provided $10 million in fiscal 2016 for a Department of Homeland Security task force on what’s called “Countering Violent Extremism,” or CVE.
In the draft fiscal 2017 Homeland Security appropriations bills making their way through Congress, Senate and House appropriators have looked to boost funding by $40 million.
Ryan on Sunday issued a statement that focused on fighting terror. “As we heal, we need to be clear-eyed about who did this. We are a nation at war with Islamist terrorists. Theirs is a repressive, hateful ideology that respects no borders,” he said. “It is a threat to our people at home and abroad. Our security depends on our refusal to back down in the face of terror. We never will.”
In December, negotiations over last year’s fiscal 2016 omnibus spending bill, Democrats were unsuccessful in pushing for gun control policies like barring suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms and ending the ban on gun violence research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kellie Mejdrich and Ryan McCrimmon contributed to this report.