Forced votes in the U.S. Senate on firearms issues in the wake of the Orlando nightclub massacre may affect the fate of the underlying appropriations bill and the funding process moving forward.
The Senate returns on Monday to resume consideration of H.R. 2578, the vehicle for the Senate Committee-reported FY 2017 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill. Votes are scheduled on four amendments related to gun control, two Democratic amendments and two competing Republican amendments. Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have an amendment pending to increase the availability of records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and increase resources for the mental health system. A background check amendment proposed by Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., to close the so-called “gun-show loophole” and require background checks for gun purchases online and at gun shows will also receive a vote.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has proposed an amendment to bar the sale of a gun to any individual on the federal terrorist watch list or any individual who has been on such a list in the past five years. A competing amendment offered by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, would give the Justice Department 72 hours to delay the sale of a gun to any suspected terrorist on the watch list, giving the agency an opportunity to seek an ex parte judicial determination that the prospective purchaser poses a credible threat of terrorism, in which case the court could block the gun sale.
Republicans argue that the Democratic proposals go too far in restricting Second Amendment rights, and Democrats criticize the Republican measures as inadequate. The Cornyn and Feinstein amendments were each considered by the Senate last December, following the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, but both measures failed to achieve the necessary 60 votes for passage. The Feinstein language received 45 votes and the Cornyn proposal had 55 votes in support.
Each of the amendments to be considered on Monday will be subject to the same 60-vote threshold for adoption and each is expected to fail to gain enough support for inclusion in the underlying bill.
However, it is possible Senate Democrats will attempt to filibuster the underlying $56 billion spending bill following these votes. Should they allow a vote on final passage of the CJS appropriations bill this week, it is possible Democrats will continue to force the issue on other appropriations bills considered by the Senate this summer. The fate of the appropriations process, so far successful in the Senate, may hang in the balance.
Several press reports indicate that several other senators are working on a bipartisan proposal to restrict gun sales to suspected terrorists, but a draft has not yet been made available and it is unclear whether such a compromise bill would have enough support to meet the 60-vote threshold that will be required for passage.
Thus the Senate must overcome the possible derailment of the process from the firearms issues, if it is to take up appropriations bills as it aims for the July 15 start of an extended summer recess.