WASHINGTON – As Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst weighed in on whether to vote for a bipartisan gun reform measure, her office phone lines were being flooded by voters hoping to influence her.
He estimated that the calls were about six to one, with an urgent message: “Please do something.”
On Tuesday, Ms. Ernst became one of 14 Republicans who broke with his party to support moving forward with legislation, pushing it beyond a Republican blockade that has thwarted years of efforts to revise gun laws. the nation. The vote was an indication of how lawmakers on both political parties have been encouraged to take action by the horror of consecutive mass shootings, including a racist massacre that killed 10 black people in Buffalo and a school run over. Primary School. Texas, which killed 19 children and two teachers.
“I’ve even spoken to Republican lawmakers in the state of Iowa, and they’re saying, ‘We’re also listening to our constituents on this issue,'” said Ms. Ernst, the No. 5 Republican, and added. “So I think people recognize that something needs to be done.”
But the list of defectors also illustrated the fragility of the coalition that is ready to move forward even with a modest commitment on weapons and the political danger that most Republicans still see in supporting any new law on theme. He suggests that, far from a radical change that could usher in a new era of consensus on tackling armed violence in America, the bill represents a high point for a Congress that could soon be in the hands of a Party. Republican who is still. he is strongly opposed to doing so.
Only two of the 14 Republicans in the Senate who broke ranks to support him face re-election this year, and for various reasons neither is particularly concerned about losing the support of his party’s Conservative base.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who voted to convict President Donald J. Trump in her 2021 impeachment trial and is running for re-election as a moderate, has been repeatedly rewarded by voters for her independent streak. Indiana Sen. Todd Young passed an undisputed primary in his Conservative state.
Three of the deserters – Senators Rob Portman of Ohio, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Richard M. Burr of North Carolina – will leave Congress later this year. The rest, including Mrs Ernst, who won a second term in 2020, will not face voters for years.
This includes Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the leader of the minority, whose willingness to let the bill move was a signal that some Republicans have calculated that, given the scale of public outrage over the mass shootings, his party could not afford to be seen as blocking a modest compromise on arms security in an election year.
“If what we’re doing is making things safer, without removing people’s Second Amendment rights, I think maybe we did it the way it should have been,” Ms. Murkowski.
The bill has yet to gain approval in the Senate, where Democratic leaders are expected to pass it over the weekend and pass the House before it can reach President Biden’s desk.
The legislation, which was negotiated by a small group of Democrats and Republicans, would extend background checks to give authorities more time to examine the mental health and youth records of potential buyers under the age of 21, and would include for the first time once serious dating partners. in a law that prevents domestic aggressors from buying firearms. It would provide federal money to states to establish “red flag” laws that allow weapons to be temporarily confiscated from people considered dangerous, and other intervention programs, and would invest millions of dollars to support mental health resources and strengthen school safety.
“There are conflicting opinions at home, but overall the reaction has been positive because people are realizing that we are not harming law-abiding gun owners,” said Maine Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. the Republicans involved in the discussions.
The vote of 64 to 34 to adopt it indicated that the measure has more than enough support to scale the 60-vote threshold needed to break Republican obstructionism, a barrier that has repeatedly hampered more ambitious efforts to tackle armed violence. But less than a third of the Republican conference, including members of Mr. McConnell, they were ready to support him on Tuesday. (Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican who retired this year, was absent, but said in a statement that he supported the measure.)
To win over the Republicans, the chief negotiators, as well as Mr. McConnell, they have worked to emphasize the bill’s investment in addressing mental health issues and its success in keeping its scope much smaller than Democrats wanted. Democratic negotiators abandoned more ambitious proposals, including a ban on the sale of semi-automatic weapons to buyers under the age of 21 and other firearms restrictions, which passed the Democratic-controlled House but had no chance in the House. Senate divided equally.
“Read the bill and talk about where you have concerns,” said Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, a key Republican negotiator. “When you put it that way, and people fully understand what we’re doing and, more importantly, what we’re not doing, it’s not a difficult discussion for me to have in North Carolina.”
But most Republicans in Congress are still expected to oppose the compromise as exaggerated. On Wednesday, House Republican leaders formally urged grassroots lawmakers to oppose the move, arguing that it “takes the wrong approach in trying to curb violent crime” in a notice distributed among offices.
As in the Senate, the few House Republicans who have said they will support the measure are heading for the exits. Rep. John Katko, a New York Republican who has announced his retirement, said Wednesday that the measure “sends a clear message that Congress can work together to keep Americans safe.”
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a senior Republican negotiator, was approached at his state’s party convention this past weekend, and Texas Republicans went so far as to reprimand the top lawmaker and eight Republicans who had signed a scheme. initial bipartisan. Adding to the reaction of the party’s right flank is Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida. marked the 14 Republicans “traitors to the Constitution and to our country.”
But many of those Republicans defended the measure Wednesday as a worthwhile compromise.
“When people say, ‘Can’t you do something?’ the answer is yes, “said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and one of the Republicans who has worked on gun law in the past. He added: “There are always concerns. I can’t please everyone. “
Senators and aides said the talks had the help of leaders of both parties, who gave the grassroots legislators time to reach an agreement and a willingness to set aside political positions that could alienate either side. .
“I think the American people want us to do something: respond instead of twisting our hands and blaming the school system or parents or the gun,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, one of the Republican supporters.
Mrs. Capito did not endorse a compromise outline agreed this month. But when he returned home to West Virginia last week, he said the message he heard from his constituents was different: “Do something.”
“It’s the right thing to do,” he concluded. “It simply came to our notice then. That’s why I voted for him. “
Mrs. Ernst, like other senators who voted to advance the measure, said she and her staff had a job to educate voters who had misconceptions about the impact of the legislation on gun owners.
“If they knew and understood the bill, I think they would give them more support, rather than jump into the latest myth or chariot out there,” he said.
There is no guarantee that all Republicans who voted to push through the bill will support it in the end.
Mr. Young suggested that he was still examining the details of the legislation, including pressure to get details to determine if there were valid concerns about the Second Amendment rights violation.
“We didn’t have much time to review the text and solicit, from different stakeholders and experts, opinions on it,” Mr. Young Wednesday. “I’m open to supporting them. I’m also open to not supporting them.”
Estefania Lai i Catie Edmondson provide reports.