House Speaker Paul Ryan is facing dissent within his own party on his decision to move a gun bill in the wake of the Orlando massacre, as tensions mount over Democrats’ hardball tactics to force action after commandeering the House floor last month.
Conservatives are raising concerns about the bill GOP leaders unveiled and planned to vote on this week, while others insisted that the House should be more focused on broader anti-terrorism measures rather than a gun bill. And Republicans were forced to delay action on the bill, raising questions over whether Ryan can muster enough support to pass the GOP measure aimed at denying terror suspects the ability to buy guns.
“We’re missing the point,” Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas, a GOP member of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN. “Six attacks in six days? This is not about one more gun law on the books.”
Rep. Dave Brat, R-Virginia, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, called the GOP bill a “disaster.”
And Arizona GOP Rep. Trent Franks blasted the House Republican leadership’s bill, arguing it threatened the Second Amendment.
“To suggest that weakening Americans’ right to hold and bear arms will somehow ameliorate or protect us from terrorism is preposterous,” Franks said.
The bill, which was modeled after similar legislation offered by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, would let the federal government and courts investigate whether someone should be denied a firearm before banning such a sale. Democrats say the bill is toothless, and are pushing Ryan to allow votes on two measures – one to expand universal background checks, the other to ban gun purchases to people on a terrorist watch list.
But Republicans have balked, citing concerns that the proposals would violate the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.
Moreover, Republicans say that Democrats should not be rewarded with votes after holding the floor for 25 hours last month in what many believe was a blatant violation of House rules.
Late Tuesday night, Ryan met with the two leaders of the Democratic effort – Reps. John Lewis of Georgia and John Larson of Connecticut – who were demanding votes on the two amendments. A Ryan spokeswoman said that the men outlined “different views” on how to reduce gun-related deaths, and the path ahead will be “determined by the majority in the coming days.”
Neither Lewis nor Larson would say they would urge the sit-in protests to continue on the House floor if they are denied a vote. House Democratic leaders were similarly non-committal, and senior aides were dubious that the caucus would continue their brazen floor tactics.
But party leaders said they would discuss the matter at a private Wednesday morning meeting, which will also be attended by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“I’m going to support the decision when they become necessary to be made,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer when asked if he backed more sit-ins on the House floor.
Senior House Republicans said GOP leaders shouldn’t allow Democrats the votes they are demanding on gun measures they back because, he said, hijacking the floor amounted to blackmail.
“I think they put the speaker and the majority in the position where they can’t yield, otherwise you legitimize what is a very illegitimate tactic,” said Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican.
The controversy started last month in the aftermath of the deadly rampage at an Orlando nightclub, prompting Democrats to renew their long-standing push to tighten restrictions on firearms.
In response, Democrats, led by Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement, led his party in a dramatic scene, where he and fellow Democrats occupied the chamber, chanting, giving speeches, singing and shouting – all to call for votes on gun legislation. Through an all-night session, House GOP leaders later scheduled votes on unrelated measures – over the heckling of Democrats – and gaveled the chamber closed for the Fourth of July recess.
During the protests, the House Democratic campaign committee sent out several fundraising solicitations, giving the GOP fodder that the move was rooted in politics.
Returning to session this week, there were signs that there would be more theatrics in the Capitol. Six people in the Capitol rotunda who were calling for gun control were arrested and charged with protesting in a non-demonstration area, according to Eva Malecki, a Capitol Police spokeswoman.
On Tuesday, House GOP leaders said that the Democratic floor antics wouldn’t stand.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday that leading Republicans were looking into allegations that Democrats intimidated floor staff to break the rules of decorum in the chamber simply to energize their supporters and line their coffers with campaign cash. McCarthy and Ryan plan to meet Wednesday with Paul Irving, the House sergeant-at-arms and top law enforcement official.
“Before we look at any actions (against Democrats), we first have have to all the facts that are based on that … That’s what people are looking at right now,” McCarthy told reporters in his office suite Tuesday. “Right now, it’s more of an investigation.”
McCarthy added: “Members of Congress (need) to adhere to the rules and the decorum of what is expected of being on the floor.”
Still, an inquiry does little to resolve the short-term dilemma Republicans face in dealing with the Democratic tactics of holding the floor hostage. Republican leaders wanted to move swiftly on their own gun bill, but abruptly scrapped a Tuesday evening House Rules Committee meeting on the matter in order to give their party more time to finalize strategy and meet as a full conference Wednesday morning.
Brat, the member of the House Freedom Caucus, told reporters he and other members of the bloc want changes to the GOP measure, and cited concerns about DOJ still having jurisdiction over who is on the terror watch list.
He called the legislation, which includes new Homeland Security provisions “a disaster,” and added: “We are just kind of putting bills together that are talking point – bullet-point oriented that don’t have substance to them.”
Asked if the bill could pass as is, Brat said: “I doubt it.”
Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, who heads the conservative Republican Study Committee told CNN the bill was “still a work in progress” and said he and others were pushing for amendments to the gun provisions of the proposal.