Family members look on during the funeral service for retired Buffalo Police officer Aaron Salter, Jr, a security guard who was shot dead in the attack by an avowed white supremacist at TOPS supermarket, in Buffalo, New York, May 25, 2022.
Jeffrey T. Barnes | Reuters
The U.S. Senate on Thursday will hold a procedural vote to advance a domestic terrorism bill the House passed earlier this month to respond to a mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y.
But opposition from Republicans is all but certain to doom the legislation.
The racist rampage by an 18-year-old on May 14 left 10 people dead in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo. The Democratic-held House responded days later with a measure that would specifically try to reduce racist violence.
The bill before the Senate, known as the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, would create three new offices in the F.B.I, as well as in the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, to track and examine cases of potential domestic terrorism.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, pleaded with his Republican colleagues on Wednesday to consider the bill in the wake of May's second mass shooting carried out by a teenager: The killing of 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
"We need real solutions," Schumer wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. "There were officers at the school in Texas. The shooter got past them."
While Democrats also hope to craft legislation that would tighten gun background checks or so-called red flag laws, the bill before the Senate on Thursday would respond to the threat of racist killings. A spate of mass shootings in recent years, including in Buffalo, Atlanta, and El Paso, Texas, have targeted a specific racial minority group.
The legislation would direct the new government offices to document and report on domestic terrorism with a special focus on white supremacy and neo-Nazi groups, and force the Pentagon and federal law enforcement to expel white supremacists from their payrolls.
The Senate is set to take its vote on cloture — a procedure that allows the chamber to limit debate and end a filibuster — just before noon ET in Washington.
But opposition from Republicans will likely stop the bill in its tracks. The GOP argues plenty of current laws can prosecute white supremacists and other agents of domestic terrorism.
Republicans in the House of Representatives, who opposed the bill when the chamber passed it on May 18, said the domestic terrorism bill would give the Justice Department and federal law enforcement too much power.
U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican whose district includes parts of the city of Austin, castigated the effort in a speech from the House floor last week.
"We understand what propping up a domestic terrorism unit in this F.B.I., in this administration's federal government, what it's all about," Roy said.
This bill "is about empowerment of the federal bureaucracy to target Americans," he continued. "It's questioning that you don't think right. It's the extension of thought crimes that is pervasive in this body that will allow the government to target us for what we believe."
While the chances the domestic terrorism bill clears the Senate are slim, a growing number of the chamber's Republicans appear receptive to conversations about separate gun-control policy after 31 Americans were shot to death in mass shootings in less than one month.
Marnie Beale of Arlington, Va., holds a sign at the Senate steps of the U.S. Capitol calling for background checks on gun purchases on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, after the latest mass shooting at a Texas elementary school.
Tom Williams | Cq-roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images
Schumer has thus far leaned on the negotiating powers of Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat and fierce advocate of stricter gun policy, to determine what measures could win the support of 10 Republicans.
While Murphy's odds of success are dim because a solid majority of Republicans would never consider any additional gun regulation, it is possible a handful — including Sens. Pat Toomey, Susan Collins and Rob Portman — could be open to passing red flag laws or strengthening background checks.
Murphy said at a press conference Thursday morning that he will speak with Republicans later in the day.
"We're going to extend a hand of partnership to those who have been sitting on the sidelines, to those who have chosen to side with the gun lobby. And we're going to offer them a seat at the table," Murphy said outside the Capitol.
"Today we will be engaged in bipartisan conversations to try to find a path forward to make our streets safer, to make our schools safer," he added. "Our belief is that we can find that common ground."
Toomey, a retiring Republican from Pennsylvania, told CNN on Wednesday that he still supports a bill he and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., authored a decade ago after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.
That bill, which would have broadened background checks and closed certain gun purchase loopholes, won majority support in the Senate at the time, but lacked the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster.
"I still strongly believe that the idea that Joe Manchin and I had that requiring background checks on all commercial sales of firearms is a completely reasonable policy that does not infringe on Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens," Toomey said Wednesday. "There's a group of us that's going to get together, and we're going to discuss this and see if we might be able to get to 60."
"There's also been some discussion about red flag legislation," Toomey added, referring to laws that allow family members to ask a court to order the temporary removal of guns from a person suspected of posing a danger to themselves or others.
"Both of those are discussions that are effectively underway," he said.