What to Know in Washington: GOP Sees Suburbs at Risk Over Guns

After two gruesome mass shootings in a 24-hour span, some Republicans are raising alarms that their opposition to new firearm limits is making the party toxic to the suburban women and college graduates who will shape the 2020 election.

“Republicans are headed for extinction in the suburbs if they don’t distance themselves from the NRA. The GOP needs to put forth solutions to help eradicate the gun violence epidemic,” said Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor and oil-and-gas executive who supports President Donald Trump.

Last year, Eberhart said, he was having lunch with Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) when the then-Florida governor learned of the massacre unfolding in Parkland. It marked the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history, as a gunman used an AR-15-style rifle to kill 17 people. Eighteen months later, as the country reels from killing sprees in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Eberhart said it’s time to join Democrats and majorities of Americans who want to ban those types of guns.

“The GOP needs to make several moves such as universal background checks, eliminating loopholes and banning military-style assault weapons to neutralize the issue,” he said. “Otherwise, Republicans will lose suburban voters just like they did in the midterms on health care.”

While most Republicans have opposed expanding background checks and banning assault rifles, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said yesterday he cut a deal with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) on “red flag” legislation to assist and encourage states to keep guns away from people who are found to pose an imminent risk of violence. Many Democrats said that wasn’t enough and called for a renewal of the assault weapons ban and universal background checks, among other measures.

The 2018 election reflected a changing landscape on guns. Republicans were swept out of the House majority after losing suburban bastions where they were once dominant — in places like Orange County, Calif., and around Dallas and Houston in Texas. Voters in 2018 favored stricter gun control by a margin of 22 percentage points, and those who did backed Democrats by a margin of 76% to 22%, according to exit polls. Gun policy ranked as the No. 4 concern, and voters who cited it as their top issue voted Democrat by a margin of 70% to 29%. Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Photographer: Chris Kleponis/Pool via Bloomberg
Trump spoke on the shootings at the White House on Monday.

What’s Next for Lawmakers: Senators don’t appear set to return to Washington to pursue an immediate solution.

Trump yesterday spoke with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who’s urging the president to support the background check legislation that he and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) crafted in 2013. That bill, which would have eliminated loopholes for commercial firearms transactions, had 54 votes in the Senate but was successfully blocked by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who’s now the majority leader.

Toomey told reporters he spoke to McConnell in the morning and will do “everything I can to persuade Senator McConnell” to allow a vote on the Manchin-Toomey bill. “My view is if we have enough support in the Senate we ought to have a vote.” Toomey didn’t back an immediate special session, however, saying if the vote were held tomorrow it would probably fail. He said supporters need time to build a coalition to get the votes to pass it, and hopes Trump will help, Steven T. Dennis reports.

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said in a statement yesterday that he was asked by McConnell to join a group of Senate committee chairmen who will consider bipartisan, bicameral legislation to address gun violence. “This afternoon McConnell asked Chairman Graham of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chairman Alexander of the Senate HELP Committee, and me to work within our jurisdictions to help protect communities without infringing on Americans’ constitutional rights,” he said yesterday, referring to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“It will be important for any solution we consider to be able to pass the Senate and the House and earn the president’s signature.”

High Court Weighs Second Amendment Showdown: As mass shootings revive the U.S. debate over gun policy, the Supreme Court is weighing whether to go forward with a Second Amendment showdown for the first time in a decade. The justices in January said they would hear a challenge to New York City rules that sharply limited where licensed handguns could be taken while locked and unloaded.

Three city handgun owners said the regulations were the most extreme firearm-transportation restrictions in the country. But then the city loosened its rules — and said the case should be dismissed because there was nothing left for the court to decide. Gun-rights advocates called the city’s move a transparent effort to avoid a ruling that would bolster the right to bear arms nationwide.

The court could say this month what it will do with the case. Read more from Greg Stohr.

On Lawmakers’ Radars

Hong Kong Police Munitions Sales: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) yesterday urged Trump to halt munition sales to the Hong Kong police. “Democrats and Republicans in Congress stand united with the people of Hong Kong in demanding the hopeful, free and democratic future that is their right,” she said in an emailed statement. Pelosi reiterated her call for the Trump administration to suspend future sales of munitions and crowd control equipment to the Hong Kong police force, Kim Chipman reports.

Pelosi said when the House and Senate return from recess in September, Congress will begin work to advance the bipartisan “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act,” which would impose sanctions on officials involved in abductions and require the U.S. State Department to annually re-assess whether the city remains autonomous.

Agencies Pressed onDomestic Terrorism Tracking: Two senators concerned about what the federal government is doing to combat domestic terrorism are doubling down on their probe in the wake of last weekend’s mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) yesterday pressed the FBI and Justice Department for an immediate response to a May 8 letter to both offices, Michaela Ross reports.

That letter asked for documents and outlined concerns the agency has failed to accurately track domestic terrorism data and has been slow to respond to the threat. Since then, this weekend’s shootings as well as others in Virginia Beach and Gilroy, Calif. have killed 46 people and injured 72, the senators said.

DHS Pressed About Infections at Border: Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who chairs the House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education panel, and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif), who chairs the House Appropriations Homeland Security panel, sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan requesting answers on how the agencies are dealing with the risk of infectious diseases in migrant centers. “When we visited the Homestead detention facility on July 15, 2019, we left with serious questions about the screening, treatment, isolation, and prevention protocols of infectious diseases, particularly influenza,” the two said in a statement.

Call for Higher Refugee Resettlement Cap: A bipartisan group of 18 senators asked the Trump administration yesterday to increase the refugee resettlement cap and to admit as many refugees as possible within that limit. Senators led by James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) say they are concerned by the resettlement limit for fiscal 2019, and for the lower-than-normal admittance figures for the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years, in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, and acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan. Read more from Ana Monteiro.

Elections & Politics

Booker to Speak on Racism, Guns at AME Church: Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) will deliver a speech on gun violence and white nationalism at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., site of a 2015 mass shooting where an avowed white nationalist killed nine black congregants. South Carolina is the third primary contest in the nation and the first test of black-voter strength for Democratic candidates. Joe Biden now holds the lead among those voters, Tyler Pager reports.

Mississippi Contest Focuses on Gas Tax, Women: The road to the governor’s mansion is bumpy in Mississippi—truly, some of the worst infrastructure in the country—and a potential gas tax hike to finance repairs has become a major talking point for the candidates ahead of today’s primary. It’s one issue where Republicans and Democrats can highlight their differences, though they spend most of their air time trying to show how well their campaigns line up with “Mississippi values.”

Pickup trucks and ammunition have featured prominently in television ads for the frontrunners in both parties. Family, church and BP oil spill money for coastal restoration also appear as bipartisan priorities. “It’s important to voters here that candidates identify themselves as Christian,” said Marvin King, a political science professor at the University of Mississippi. “They’re trying to teach the voter what their values are, and sometimes that’s easier to do than talking about a gas tax.” Jennifer Kay previews today’s gubernatorial primaries.

Warren to Address Native American Forum: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has signed on to attend a Native American presidential forum in Sioux City, Iowa, later this month, joining six other Democratic candidates to discuss issues affecting Native Americans. Warren’s appearance is sure to draw the most attention given her complicated relationship with the Native American community. For years, Warren has been dogged by controversy over her claims of Native American heritage—Trump often mocks her as “Pocahontas.”

In October she released a video of her taking a DNA test that she said found “strong evidence” of Native American roots. Warren received widespread criticism from the Native American community because tribes set their own citizenship requirements, of which DNA testing cannot prove, Tyler Pager reports.

Republican Seeks Duncan Hunter’s Seat: San Diego Republican Carl DeMaio entered the 2020 race to unseat embattled Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who is facing campaign-corruption charges, Politico reports. DeMaio, a former San Diego City councilman, collected more than $100,000 yesterday, according to his campaign, Politico reports. DeMaio’s campaign is preparing for the possibility that former Rep. Darrell Issa joins the race. It commissioned a poll showing DeMaio scoring higher favorability ratings than Issa, Politico reports. Several other Republicans have also launched campaigns for the seat amid Hunter’s legal woes.

Puerto Rico Fight Heads To Island’s Supreme Court: Puerto Rico’s roiling political crisis has entered a new phase, with the U.S. territory’s top court agreeing to consider whether newly sworn Governor Pedro Pierluisi assumed the office legally. The island’s supreme court responded rapidly to a lawsuit filed Sunday by Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz seeking an order to force Pierluisi to give up the functions of the office. The court ordered all sides to submit written arguments by today at noon. The court hasn’t said whether it will hold a hearing and it’s unclear how soon it might issue a decision, but as the ruling would cover a local constitutional issue, the island’s top court will have final say. Read more from Michael Deibert.

What Else To Know Today

Former Fed Chiefs Urge Independence: Four former Federal Reserve chiefs made a joint plea for the central bank to be able to operate without political pressures or the threat of removal of its leaders, responding to Trump’s persistent attacks on current Chairman Jerome Powell. “We are united in the conviction that the Fed and its chair must be permitted to act independently and in the best interests of the economy, free of short-term political pressures and, in particular, without the threat of removal or demotion of Fed leaders for political reasons,” Janet Yellen, Ben Bernanke, Alan Greenspan and Paul Volcker said in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

In the latest move to pile pressure on the Fed, the president said that a decline in the yuan on Monday — which fell below the psychologically important level of seven per dollar — is called “currency manipulation” and indicated he’d like the Fed to act to counter the Chinese action. Read more from Sarah McGregor.

U.S. Labels China a Currency Manipulator: The Trump administration formally labeled China a currency manipulator, further escalating its trade conflicts with Beijing after the country’s central bank allowed the yuan to fall in retaliation for new U.S. tariffs. While the U.S. Treasury Department’s determination is largely symbolic, as the potential punishments are a shadow of the steps Trump has already taken against China, it underscores a rapidly deteriorating relationship between the world’s two largest economies. Read more from Saleha Mohsin.

  • Meanwhile, major American farm groups sounded an alarm yesterday after China halted its U.S. agriculture imports, signaling a key Republican political constituency is losing patience with Trump’s escalating trade conflict. Zippy Duvall, president of the the American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation’s largest and most influential general farm organization, called China’s import cut-off “a body blow to thousands of farmers and ranchers who are already struggling to get by.” Read more from Mike Dorning.

China Says U.S. Allies Face Retaliation If They Host Missiles: China warned that the U.S. and its Asia-Pacific allies risked countermeasures if they accepted the deployment of intermediate-range American missiles, singling out Australia, Japan and South Korea. China’s foreign ministry said in a statement late yesterday that the country “will not sit idly by” in response to such threats, urging the U.S. to avoid escalating tensions. Read more.

Trump Presses to Lure Boris Johnson on Top Foreign Policy: As Boris Johnson hurtles toward a no-deal Brexit that could leave the U.K. diplomatically adrift and economically vulnerable, Trump is looking to seize an opportunity to lure the country away from Europe on some of his top foreign policy priorities: Iran and Huawei. Yet with Johnson focused on negotiating a breakup with the European Union — and perhaps a snap election at home — the White House may have to be patient in its hopes that the U.K.’s leadership change will bring closer alignment on issues including sanctioning Iran’s nuclear program and blocking Huawei equipment from new 5G mobile networks. Read more from David Wainer.

North Korea Fires Projectiles, Questions Trump Talks: North Korea’s foreign ministry renewed its threat to take a “new road” in negotiations with the U.S., saying Washington and Seoul would “pay a heavy price” if they continued to disregard the regime’s warnings against holding joint military exercises. Today’s statement came less than an hour after North Korea fired a new volley of short-range ballistic missiles into the sea — its fourth such weapons test in two weeks.

While Trump has said the tests don’t violate his agreements with Kim, they do constitute of breach of United Nations resolutions and threaten American troops stationed on the peninsula. Kim has given the U.S. until the end of the year to make a better offer in nuclear negotiations, and the foreign ministry statement said the allies’ actions were making dialogue more difficult. Read more from Jihye Lee.

U.S. Imposes Venezuela Measures: Trump imposed further sanctions on Venezuela, freezing the government’s assets in the U.S. and adding immigration restrictions in a move aimed at stepping up pressure on the regime of Nicolas Maduro. Property belonging to the Venezuelan government “may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in,” Trump said in an executive order released late Monday by the White House. The U.S. will also block entry into the U.S. by any Venezuelan citizen determined to have assisted or acted on Maduro’s behalf. Read more from Justin Sink.

USDA Lacks Congressional Approval for Relocation: The Department of Agriculture didn’t obtain the necessary approval from Congress to relocate hundreds of employees out of Washington, according to a report from the USDA’s Office of Inspector General. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 requires the USDA to get “committee approval” for relocation and if the agency needed the $6 million appropriation, allotted for relocation expenses and building repairs, to inform Congress no later than 60 days after enactment, the report released yesterday said, Teaganne Finn reports.

USDA announced earlier this year it would be moving almost 600 employees from the agency’s Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to the Kansas City region. Staff from the two agencies will be transitioned out of Washington over a three-month period, according to a USDA cost-benefit analysis. The first 100 employees were slated to be relocated by Aug. 1 and the last 247 staffers affected are projected to be relocated by Sept. 30.

An analysis of NIFA employees conducted by the union found the move will result in “catastrophic employee attrition.” The agency could expect 70% of the more than 200 employees being reassigned to Kansas City to decline relocation, according to the data released in July. The USDA researchers recently voted to form a bargaining unit with the American Federation of Government Employees, a federal employee union. The department’s response in the OIG report said the provisions of the measure are “unconstitutional and are without legal effect” and not required to obtain committee approval of such actions.

EPA Had Rejected Calif. Plan Embraced by Ford, VW: A recent compromise between four major automakers and California’s clean-air regulator on fuel efficiency standards was rejected by the Trump administration months earlier and not considered “a productive alternative.” The deal, which Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen announced in July alongside California’s Air Resources Board, eases the pace of annual efficiency improvements required under current Obama-era rules but is tougher than the Trump administration’s proposal to cap mileage requirements at 2020 levels. Ryan Beene has more.

Man Sentenced for Mailing Bombs to Trump Critics: The Florida man who mailed pipe bombs to critics of Trump in October was sentenced to 20 years in prison yesterday, the day after back-to-back mass shootings sparked a fierce national debate over the impact of incendiary political speech. Cesar Sayoc, who sent a wave of fear across the U.S. for two weeks and plastered his van with pro-Trump messages and the faces of Hillary Clinton and others inside crosshairs, targeted Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), CNN and others—13 targets in all. None of the bombs went off. Read more from Gerald Porter Jr. and Chris Dolmetsch.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com