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The coalition behind the gun law reveals a sharp Republican split in the Senate

Written by Javed Iqbal

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Tuesday’s Senate votes in favor promote a narrow bipartisan agreement tightening federal gun laws was at one level a political miracle, with 14 Republicans joining Democrats to defy the National Rifle Association and outspoken conservative critics – in an election year, no less.

Put another way, the strong Republican opposition to a bill that offered only relatively gradual adjustments to existing gun laws after an escalating series of mass shootings showed the resilience of tough stances on gun rights and put the focus on the dwindling corps inside. The Senate GOP, who are willing to cut into even modest agreements with the Democrats.

The 64-to-34 test vote Tuesday, which put the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act on track to be passed later this week, offered a roadmap for how governance can still be done on sensitive issues in a shared era – very carefully, right. players and under the right circumstances.

No player was more decisive than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Who tapped the trusted leadership deputy Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) In the wake of the May 24 massacre at an Uvalde, Tex., Elementary school and made it clear that the time had come – unlike before – for the Republicans to conclude an agreement on gun violence.

“This time is different,” McConnell said Wednesday in a speech formally backing the deal Cornyn negotiated. “This time, the Democrats came our way and agreed to promote some common sense solutions without rolling back the rights of law-abiding citizens. The result is a product I am proud to support.”

However, McConnell is in the minority at a divided Republican conference – a position he usually tries to avoid.

Support for the agreement in Tuesday’s test vote was only 13 other Republicans, including three who would retire next year and six others who, like McConnell, are not up for election until 2026. Another Republican who supports the agreement, who did not vote Tuesday, Sen. . Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), Also retires.

Among the 34 Republicans who voted no on Tuesday were several members of McConnell’s leadership team – including Senator John Thune (SD), GOP leader No. 2 and Senator John Barrasso (Wyo.), No. 3 – and several senators who have openly flirted with presidential candidates.

Some of these Republicans were among the most outspoken on Wednesday in publicly opposing the deal and warning of conservative setbacks that could wash the backers of the deal out of power. One of them, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Summed up his voters’ reaction to the bill as “rage.”

“People are absolutely furious that this bill does nothing meaningful to address the national crime wave. It does not make sense to address the escalating attacks on police and civilians,” he said. “I mean, in Missouri we have a record number of homicides , car capsules, violent crime, and it’s everywhere. And this bill does nothing about it. “

After Cornyn made one last pitch to his colleagues at a Republican lunch in the Senate on Wednesday – where he stressed the mental health and funding of law enforcement in the bill as well as the more robust gun control provisions that were omitted – Barrasso and Senator Ted Cruz (R ) -Tex.) Proposed to vote on another bill that completely eliminated weapons measures, instead of focusing solely on mental health and school safety regulations.

A broader group of Senate conservatives also expressed public dismay, including Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), Who told reporters that his office phones “light up” with callers who are “disappointed” that we had 14 Republicans voting for this … that we got the Republican base to put this over the top. “

Asked about McConnell’s role, he said, “There are a lot of disappointed people … everywhere.”

Meanwhile, top leaders in Parliament quickly distanced themselves from Senate Agreements – with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) And Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) Telling members a few hours after Tuesday’s Senate vote that they would oppose it.

A memo sent Wednesday by Scalise’s office to GOP lawmakers said the bill represents “an attempt to slowly disrupt law-abiding citizens’ rights to the Second Amendment” and that it “contains inadequate crash barriers to ensure money is clean. in fact, to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals or to prevent mass violence. “

“I’m 100 percent against it – 100 percent,” the rep said. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a prominent Conservative leader in Parliament. “This is the wrong thing to do and I do not hope it happens.”

In a statement to reporters Wednesday, McConnell said it was “not at all unusual” for members of his party to have opposing views. “We see that often,” he said.

In fact, McConnell has blessed several bipartisan agreements with Democrats since the GOP entered the Senate minority last year, including a $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure deal, a comprehensive industrial policy bill aimed at increasing U.S. competitiveness with China, a post-reform measure and more. In each case, McConnell and his allies said, the desire to show cooperation and progress on issues of public interest outweighed the political risks of giving the Democrats a victory.

Gun violence, however, posed a particularly potent test, and the Uvalde tragedy came at a particularly sensitive time – in the midst of a midterm primary season in which several GOP senators have faced or are facing primary elections against more conservative challengers.

But McConnell’s allies said there was political logic in the decision to reach a modest agreement with the Democrats and demonstrate to the public that the GOP is not an unshakable obstacle to action to counter the massacre of mass shootings.

“I think the country wants us to find some common ground in the area of ​​unstable people using weapons to try to get better information in the system to stop some of these shootings,” said Senator Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C.). “When it comes to 80 percent support for these ideas, it’s a national consensus. And, you know, the 20 percent – I respect their views, but when the public says, ‘Can’t you do anything?’ the answer is yes. “

Late. Thom Tillis (RN.C.), who negotiated the bill with Cornyn, called the bill “balanced policy” and argued that it effectively short-circuits future arms control efforts – just as the GOP’s support for infrastructure law likely prevented a much larger party-line democratic bill .

“If you look at what we did not do – no mandatory waiting periods, no ban on weapons that can be bought legally today … I think that’s fair, and I think the majority of the American people agree. in it, “he said.

Still, the political reality of Tuesday’s vote was sharp, and the agreement is largely supported by the Republican senators who are most isolated from electoral implications. Even the two GOP senators for re-election this year, who voted to advance the agreement on Tuesday, reflect this fundamental dynamic: Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) reckons independent and democratic crossover voters will survive her re-election efforts against a more conservative Republican challenger. , and Senator Todd C. Young (R-Ind.) came without opposition from a May 3 primary election.

Young said Wednesday that he was not a guaranteed vote for the final bill, saying he still “digests the actual language.” But he praised the mental health and school safety funding in the bill and called the gun regulations “fairly reasonable.” If a conservative counter-reaction to the bill is underway, he said, it was not reflected in his constitutive feedback.

“The calls are about 10-to-1 in my office – 10 in favor of reasonable bans” on allowing dangerous people access to firearms, he said. “For me, it’s just listening to my constituents and being responsive, and sometimes the government actually has to do that – to be responsive.”

Constituent pressure, however, went in the opposite direction for Senator Cynthia M. Lummis (R-Wyo.), Who expressed a certain openness to narrow the arms regulations this month. On Wednesday, she said Wyoming voters who contacted her office had turned “massively” against the pending agreement.

“Everyone is now worried that the rights to the second amendment are being violated,” she said.

Late. Roger Marshall (R-Can.), Who voted against advancing the agreement on Tuesday, summed up the message he has received from voters as: “Stand up. Ikke Do not give up, do not give room for the second amendment.”

However, he declined to criticize McConnell or other Republicans for embracing the agreement, predicting that any political consequences among the GOP base would be fleeting: “I feel we have a good team right now, that we are together, and that “We will go in there and agree to disagree after this. And I think in the end … that people at home are so locked in to inflation, the price of petrol, that this is not a top-10 problem for them.”

For many of the Republicans backing the agreement, any election implications are beside the point. “I’m not sure that’s good politics,” said Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah). “It will save lives – that’s why it’s good.”

Marianna Sotomayor contributed to this report.

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Javed Iqbal

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