Republicans hate terrorists, but they seem to hate gun control measures even more.
That’s why the party is twisting itself into contortions trying to figure out how its members can support a limited gun control proposal that may prevent another massacre like the one in Orlando, while also not alienating their donors at the NRA and their gun-toting base.
Even critics argue it’s major progress that some in the GOP are even considering potentially banning people on the terrorist watch and no-fly lists from buying firearms.
But for Democrats it’s not good enough, given the amount of death and carnage at the LGBT nightclub in Florida over the weekend.
Things reached a boiling point on Wednesday for Senate Democrats, as more than a dozen lawmakers helped Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sustain a daylong filibuster where he demanded a robust debate and votes on gun control measures.
"I've had enough and I just couldn’t bring myself to come back to the Senate this week and pretend like this is just business as usual," said Murphy in his 45th floor speech highlighting victims of gun violence since January 2013, the month after 20 six and seven year olds were slaughtered in Newtown, Connecticut.
During the marathon protest on the Senate floor, Murphy and his colleagues laid out their laundry list of gun measures: Increased background checks, closing the gun show loophole, reinstating the assault weapon ban and outlawing extended magazine clips.
Well, that’s actually more of a Christmas wish list, and Santa seems to have stopped dropping by the Capitol since President Obama took office.
There seems to only be bipartisan consensus on one gun related issue: Neither party wants terrorists to be strapped with weapons.
“Nobody wants terrorists to have firearms,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday. “We’re open to serious suggestions from the experts as to what we might be able to do to be helpful.”
This is one of those rare occasions where the top GOP brass in the Capitol actually agrees (in public at least) with their party’s presumptive presidential nominee.
“I will be meeting with the NRA, who has endorsed me, about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no fly list, to buy guns,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday (before reiterating his advocacy for arming people at booze-filled night clubs across the nation).
That tweet caught some Republicans off guard.
“That makes some sense, as a statement, but what if somebody was on there and shouldn’t be on there?” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) told a scrum of reporters. “A lot of times you collect data and a lot of it’s inaccurate.”
That mistrust of the government runs deep in the GOP.
“I think anytime the government is empowered to make a list and people automatically lose rights who would otherwise have them because the government has put them on a list is something we ought to be very thoughtful about,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told The Daily Beast.
With more than $60,000 in donations from the NRA since 1998, Blunt has received more donations from the gun rights group than any of his colleagues, according to the Washington Post.
Trump’s biggest Senate fan, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) declared it a sign of leadership from the GOP frontrunner who no one else really likes very much.
“Perhaps Trump’s action and leadership in this could definitely improve the situation and get something that we all can agree on,” Sessions, an early Trump cheerleader, told The Daily Beast.
But, true to form, there’s no agreement in sight amongst U.S. senators. While everyone supports the broad principle of opposing terrorists with guns, a few Republicans have broken with GOP orthodoxy and are calling for change. Those include Sens. Kelly Ayotte (NH), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), and Rep. Robert Dold (Ill.).
Their options for change became clearer on Wednesday.
As Murphy filibustered, Democrats, once again, rallied around a proposal by longtime gun-restrictions advocate Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.). Her measure simply banned people on the terrorism watch list from securing weapons legally. Republicans had begun to warm to Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-Texas) bill that requires a 72-hour delay for suspected terrorists to get a gun as a judge reviews the details of the case.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) is trying to split the difference. From his vulnerable perch as an incumbent in blue-leaning Pennsylvania, he’s already put his neck out on the issue of guns by sponsoring a near-universal background check bill with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).
Toomey’s new gun legislation would require the Attorney General to annually submit its list of suspected terrorists to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for review. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s advocacy group, Everytown for Gun Safety, has been in talks with the senator on the bill but is withholding support until he shows he can a Democrat or two to sign on.
When asked by reporters if the bill is intended to buy him cover amidst the blistering attacks he’s received from his Senate opponent, Katie McGinty, he demurred. “Not looking for cover,” he responded coolly. “Looking to get something done here.”