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Tensions appear on gun legislation after latest school shooting

Sharp words on the floor and in hallways, but no bills that appear set for floor votes

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, sought floor action on two bills related to school security Thursday, but Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., objected.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, sought floor action on two bills related to school security Thursday, but Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., objected. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Lawmaker tension boiled over on Capitol Hill this week as it became clearer that Congress would not pass legislation in the wake of another fatal school shooting.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy at a news conference Thursday showed no signs that Republicans would bring forward tougher firearm measures in response to the shooter at a private school in Nashville who killed three 9-year-old children and three adults on Monday.

“I don’t think one piece of legislation solves this. I think a nation together, working together, solves a problem that’s much bigger than us,” McCarthy said.

Democrats, who on Wednesday had called on the Republican majority to hold floor votes on bills that would ban assault weapons, indicated Thursday they did not have immediate plans to pursue a discharge petition that would force such a vote.

“We haven’t made any decisions one way or the other with respect to a particular legislative approach,” Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York told reporters. “But we are going to continue to make it clear that Congress must act.”

A confrontation in a hallway outside the House chamber Wednesday evening included shouting between New York Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman and Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie.

“Are you listening to what I’m saying?” Bowman asked at one point.

“Yeah, calm down,” Massie replied.

“Calm down? Children are dying. Nine-year-old children. The solution isn’t arming teachers,” said Bowman, a former school principal.

And in the Senate, an extended floor debate Thursday between Connecticut Democratic Sen. Christopher S. Murphy and Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz laid bare the partisan fault lines that show lawmakers far apart on getting anything done.

On Thursday, Murphy, a longtime leading voice for tougher gun laws, blocked unanimous consent requests from Cruz on bills related to school security. Cruz said one measure would commit $15 billion to add law enforcement officers at schools and another would allow schools to spend COVID-related money on school security.

“I don’t know how a Democrat senator goes home to your state, I don’t know how you go home to Connecticut or New Jersey or Michigan and look in the eyes of a superintendent, look in the eyes of a teacher and say, no, I will not let you spend the money on school security,” Cruz said.

The proposals, Murphy said, were not serious attempts to make children safer. He called one “ham-handed” and said there were brackets and question marks in the text.

“They’re going to get a lot of clicks online,” Murphy said. “The confrontation that he’s looking for will probably lead to a bunch of cable news appearances being booked, but it’s not going to save any kids’ lives.”

Cruz said Democrats simply react to mass shootings by wanting another gun control bill to disarm law-abiding citizens. Murphy said he never got a call from Cruz when Congress sought to address school shootings and other forms of gun violence through a bipartisan legislative package passed last year.

Cruz “never expressed one iota of interest in being part of those negotiations,” Murphy said.

Over in the House, when asked about the Nashville shooting, McCarthy played down the impact of legislative fixes in addressing mass shootings and said the nation has to deal with mental illness.

“There’s not one person in America [who] doesn’t want to solve all this,” he said. “We want to make sure we take in all the information.”

Jeffries expressed outrage at a news conference over what he called an epidemic of gun violence.

“Children being slaughtered in schools, becoming a way of life in the United States of America,” Jeffries said. “That can’t be. It’s time that this Congress put kids over guns. That’s what House Democrats want to do.”

Jeffries said he hadn’t spoken to Bowman about the exchange with Massie, but acknowledged the issue had inflamed emotions.

“Passions may be running high here in the Congress,” Jeffries said. “Passions are definitively running high throughout the United States of America.”

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