House GOP Preps Response to Florida Shooting, Democrats Want More

Absurd that Republican leaders won’t put background check bill on floor, Hoyer says

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Speaker Paul D. Ryan conduct a news conference in the Capitol on Tuesday after a meeting of the House Republican Conference. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Republican leaders on Tuesday announced their legislative response to a mass shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 people dead — a bill to create a federal grant program for schools to implement threat assessment protocols. But Democrats are already calling the measure insufficient. 

The House will vote next week on a bill by Florida GOP Rep. John Rutherford, called the STOP School Violence Act, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said.

The California Republican also announced that the House Oversight and Judiciary committees will be holding hearings with the FBI to assess why it did not act on tips about accused gunman Nikolas Cruz before his Feb. 14 attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan talked during Tuesday’s weekly GOP conference meeting about the action House committees are taking in response to the Florida shooting.

In addition to oversight of the FBI, the Energy and Commerce Committee will be looking at the link between mental health and violence, Ryan said, according to a person in the room. The speaker also noted that the mental health law Congress passed is just starting to take effect and the upcoming omnibus spending bill will include funding needed for its implementation. 

McCarthy said the STOP School Violence Act will be in addition to the so-called Fix-NICS bill the House already passed to improve reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. That measure included a provision allowing people with a concealed carry permit from their home state to carry their guns across state lines.

GOP leaders have said they don’t want to remove the concealed carry provision, despite warnings by President Donald Trump and Senate leaders that Fix-NICS can’t pass otherwise.

The Senate may attempt to add the Fix-NICS bill without the concealed carry provision to the fiscal 2018 omnibus, which Congress is hoping to pass before the March 23 government funding deadline. McCarthy declined to speculate about that possibility. 

“Let’s see what the Senate’s able to do, just like any other bill. The House continues to work on this,” he said, citing the actions he announced. “The Senate has a lot of legislation sitting over there. Let’s see what they can actually act upon.”

Democratic discontent

While the STOP School Violence Act is expected to pass the House with overwhelming support from both parties, Democrats want more. 

“The way this institution ought to work is we ought to put substantial pieces of additional protections [on the floor] — not just for students but for people who are in theaters, nightclubs, concert venues, churches, shopping malls,” House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer said. “In all those places and more, people have been mowed down and are demanding legislation.”

The Maryland Democrat said he has not heard of anyone who plans to oppose the STOP School Violence Act but that measure alone won’t solve the problem, especially since schools can already institute threat assessment protocols and conduct training for identifying early signs of violence. 

“I think every school system ought to do that, with or without the grants,” Hoyer said, though he noted the bill doesn’t go far enough in addressing gun violence.

“There’s nothing that the school system can do with a grant that will make sure that everybody is checked, to see whether they are mentally capable or whether they’re criminals or terrorists or spouse abusers from getting weapons,” Hoyer said. Nor does it ban bump stocks or assault weapons, he added. 

Democrats have been joined by Trump in their calls for a more comprehensive measure to address gun violence. Trump has endorsed legislation the minority party favors that would mandate background checks for firearms purchased online or at gun shows. But Republicans have shown no interest in that or broader measures that could be seen as restricting access to guns.

“The fact that we can’t get a bill supported by 97 percent of the American people on the floor is absurd,” Hoyer said of the background check measure.

The minority whip said Ryan should put such a bill on the floor for an up-or-down vote along with other gun violence prevention measures lawmakers have offered. He acknowledged, though, that the speaker would be unlikely to do so.

“He’s afraid that the majority of his caucus will vote against what 80 percent of the American people want,” Hoyer said. “That’s why they’re going to lose the House, in my opinion. But this House is being run in a very autocratic way.”

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