WASHINGTON — Texas Sen. John Cornyn sought Wednesday to rally fellow Senate Republicans behind a gun violence package by emphasizing items left out of the measure entirely and provisions that were added specifically to limit its impact on individual gun rights.
The deal garnered 14 Republican supporters in Tuesday night’s initial test vote, which is more than the 10 required to get it over the finish line later this week.
But Cornyn needs to hold on to most of those votes to deliver the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk, and many gun rights advocates have been hammering away at the proposal. The senator was equally booed at last week’s state Republican convention.
Cornyn sought to counter such criticism during Wednesday’s weekly Senate GOP lunch with a presentation, shared later with reporters, that described a list of “conservative wins” in the bill.
One of those wins was a lack of any “new restrictions, bans, waiting periods, or mandates for law-abiding gun owners.”
Another was the bill’s “strict” due process requirements on federal grants it would authorize for extreme risk protection order programs at the state level.
Those are more commonly called red flag laws, which allow for courts to temporarily revoke gun rights of people found to pose a threat to themselves or others.
Gun rights advocates have denounced such laws as avenues to gun confiscation that are easily abused by ex-spouses, feuding neighbors and others.
He also pointed to $300 million for school security included in the bill, and more than $12 billion in community mental health funding.
The National Rifle Association released a statement Tuesday night opposing the bill for “inviting interference with our constitutional freedoms.”
But Cornyn made a point in his presentation of identifying provisions included in the bill “at the request of the NRA.”
The bill would close the so-called “boyfriend loophole” by extending gun prohibitions to domestic violence offenders whose victims are their unmarried dating partners.
Cornyn emphasized limits on those expanded prohibitions – they would only apply to recent relationships and would not be retroactive.
First-time offenders who avoid further trouble with the law also would see their rights automatically restored after five years, and their records removed from the federal background check system.
Overcoming GOP skepticism
It’s just the latest Senate Republican lunch where Cornyn has found himself in salesman mode. He previously ran his colleagues through the bipartisan negotiating group’s initial framework and shared slides of polling demonstrating support for key provisions among gun owners.
Still, significant Republican skepticism remains. House GOP leaders came out against the proposal on Wednesday and plan to urge their rank-and-file members to follow suit.
A number of Texas Republicans in the House hardly needed the encouragement.
“Unlike some in DC, I will NEVER compromise on defending your 2nd Amendment Rights,” Rep. Ronny Jackson of Amarillo wrote on Twitter. “Democrats’ ultimate goal is to totally DISARM law-abiding citizens. We can NEVER give them an INCH on this issue!!”
The deal did pick up a supporter in Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio, whose district includes Uvalde.
sen. Ted Cruz, who voted against advancing the proposal the day before, told reporters on Wednesday that it’s the “wrong approach.”
Politico reported that Cruz presented an alternative proposal on lunch focused on providing more funding for school police officers and increasing penalties for gun crimes.
Still, Cornyn’s Democratic counterpart in the negotiations, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, told reporters he hopes the 14 Republican votes to advance the bill represents a floor and not a ceiling.
Murphy suggested some Republicans might have needed more time to examine the text of the bill, which was released shortly before the initial Tuesday vote.
He also noted that the bill includes budget offsets so that it won’t add to the federal deficit.
“This is a paradigm-shifting moment,” Murphy told reporters. “This is a moment where we are all of a sudden able to work together on guns in a way that has not been possible for 30 years.”
On the floor, Murphy played up aspects of the bill that Cornyn did not, displaying a poster touting the inclusion of “more background checks,” “new penalties for gun trafficking” and “keeping guns away from domestic abusers.”
Murphy seemed to be responding to some on his side who wanted more aggressive measures, such as a ban on assault weapons and universal background checks.
“This is a week to focus on what we have done, not what we have left undone,” Murphy said. “And to accept this as an invitation to find other ways that we can come together around difficult, vexing issues in this country.”