The Senate is set to begin a series of gun-related votes as early as Monday, with Democrats pledging to work through the weekend to secure GOP support.
Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a Senate floor speech Thursday that he talked with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and there was an agreement on allowing votes on two Democratic gun measures as amendments to a spending bill.
Reid said there would be a measure that would extend background checks and another that would prevent suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said there will be four votes on gun measures Monday: two on Democrat-backed amendments and two on GOP measures. Each will need 60 votes to pass, according to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office.
The discussion comes a day after Connecticut Democrat Christopher S. Murphy waged a nearly 15-hour filibuster on the Senate floor, demanding action on gun legislation in the wake of a mass shooting that left 49 dead in an Orlando gay nightclub. About 40 senators, virtually all of them Democrats, joined him on the floor to ask questions. Murphy said Thursday he expects every Senate Democratic office to work throughout the weekend to secure GOP support for the measures. “There is going to a fury of advocacy that comes into Republicans’ members offices that will dwarf that of the NRA,” he said.
President Barack Obama, in Orlando to meet with the families of the shooting victims, said their collective grief “is beyond description,” and called again for new federal gun-control measures.
“Our politics have conspired to make it as easy as possible for a terrorist … to buy extraordinary powerful weapons and they can do so legally,” Obama said, noting that Florida shooter claimed allegiance to the Islamic State.
In the Senate, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., pushed the amendment that would prohibit suspected terrorists on government watch lists from purchasing guns. She said at a Thursday news conference that her measure has the support of the White House.
Cornyn is advancing a similar measure that would create a waiting period, not an outright ban on selling guns to those on watch lists. That version of the measure is supported by the National Rifle Association. Both proposals, rejected in December 2015, will be considered again Monday.
Concerned that neither amendment will garner enough support, Sen. Susan Collins is working on an alternative plan that is more selective in deciding who should be banned from buying weapons.
“Rather than doing Groundhog Day, I think it’s time for a new approach and a more targeted one,” the Maine Republican said Thursday.
Unlike the Feinstein and Cornyn measures, which use a broader terrorist watch list, Collins said, her measure would be limited to the no-fly list and a “selectee list” that she said requires credible evidence of a person becoming a threat.
To address the case of the Orlando gunman, who was on such a list but later removed from it, the Collins proposal includes a “five-year look-back” and notification of the FBI.
Feinstein and Cornyn rely on a terrorist screening data base maintained by the FBI that contains the names of tens of thousands of Americans, Collins said.
“To get on that list, all you need is someone to report derogatory information,” she said. “To get to the no-fly list or the selectee list, there has to be credible evidence existing.”
Collins said she has no Democratic co-sponsors yet.
The Senate will also consider amendments to expand background checks advanced by Murphy and another by supported by Republicans Charles Grassley of Iowa and Ted Cruz of Texas.
The Grassley amendment, likely be considered on Monday, would improve federal databases to ensure law enforcement officials are notified if a person under investigation for terrorism in the past five years tries to buy a gun. It also addresses restrictions for those suffering from mental health.
Reid commended Murphy’s filibuster effort.
“For 14 hours and 50 minutes beginning late Wednesday morning and ending early Thursday morning, the entire nation watched the junior senator from Connecticut,” Reid said.
“We talk about it and there are a lot of fake filibusters. This was real.”
McConnell dismissed the effort as a “campaign talk-a-thon” which slowed down work on a spending bill.
“So we’re now working to pass an appropriations bill that will give the FBI and other law enforcement officials more of the resources needed to track down and defuse threats right here on American soil.”
While the Senate grappled with the gun question, there were no signs that House leaders would move from their corner to do the same.