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Republicans block domestic terrorism bill after shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde

People gathered at a memorial for the shooting victims outside of Tops market in Buffalo, New York, on May 20.Spencer Platt/Photographer: Spencer Platt/Gett

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked action on a bill aimed at strengthening the federal government’s efforts to combat domestic terrorism, rejecting a measure put forward by Democrats after a racist massacre in which a gunman motivated by white supremacist ideology killed 10 Black people in a Buffalo, New York, supermarket.

Democratic leaders had framed the procedural vote as the best vehicle for quick action on gun violence prevention measures after the elementary school shooting this week in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two teachers.

If Republicans allowed it to move forward, Senator Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat and the majority leader, said he would open the bill up to proposed changes from both parties to address gun violence.


“It’s a chance to have a larger debate and consider amendments for gun safety legislation in general, not just for those motivated by racism — as vital as it is to do that,” Schumer said, imploring Republicans to allow the debate to open. “I know that many members on the other side hold views that are different than the views on this side of the aisle. So let us move on this bill. Let us proceed.”

But Republicans voted against even considering the measure, arguing that the bill was unnecessary and defined extremism in a way that could be too broadly construed by law enforcement. The vote was 47-47, leaving Democrats short of the 60 needed to move forward on the bill.

The result is that senators will leave Washington for a weeklong Memorial Day recess without passing any legislation to address the pair of mass shootings that have horrified the nation this month.

The bill that fell short Thursday, known as the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, would establish three new offices — one each in the FBI, the Justice Department, and the Department of Homeland Security — to monitor, investigate, and prosecute domestic terrorism. It would require biannual reports assessing the domestic terrorism threat posed by white supremacists, with a particular focus on combating “white supremacist and neo-Nazi infiltration of the uniformed services.”


It was first introduced in 2017, but Democratic leaders moved to quickly pass it into law after the shooting in Buffalo, in which the gunman appeared to have been inspired by the white supremacist “great replacement theory,” which holds that Western elites are plotting to disempower white people by replacing them with people of color.

The failure of the legislation was no surprise to Senate Democrats. They have staked their hopes for gun safety legislation instead on bipartisan negotiations led by Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, that are expected to focus on strengthening so-called red flag laws, which are intended to restrict potentially dangerous people from having guns.

A small group of senators who have sought to negotiate legislation on guns met Thursday afternoon for the second time searching for any compromise that could win approval in Congress.

They narrowed it to three topics — background checks for guns purchased online or at gun shows, red flag laws designed to keep guns away from those who could harm themselves or others, and programs to bolster security at schools and other buildings.

“We have a range of options that we’re going to work on,” Murphy said. The 10 senators broke into groups and will report next week.


Murphy has been working to push gun legislation since the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown that killed 20 children and six educators. He was joined Thursday by Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, and Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico.

Collins, a veteran of bipartisan talks, called the meeting “constructive.”

What is clear, however, is that providing funding for local gun safety efforts may be more politically viable than devising new federal policies.

Graham exited the meeting saying there is no appetite for a federal red flag law or a so-called yellow flag law — which permits temporary firearm confiscation from people in danger of hurting themselves or others, if a medical practitioner signs off.

But Graham said there could be interest in providing money to the states that already have red flag laws or that want to develop them. Blumenthal, who circulated a draft at the meeting, will work with Graham on a potential compromise.

“These laws save lives,” Blumenthal said.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.