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Senate fails to advance domestic terrorism bill over GOP opposition

Washington — The Senate on Thursday failed to advance a bill to bolster federal efforts to combat domestic terrorism, a setback in Democratic efforts to take action in the wake of deadly mass shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

The vote to begin debate on the bill, known as the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2022, failed by a margin of 47 to 47, falling far short of the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome Republican opposition in the 50-50 Senate. Similar legislation passed the House in 2020 only to stall in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York switched his vote to "no" in a procedural maneuver that allows him to bring the bill up again in the future. He first scheduled the vote earlier this week to respond to the Buffalo shooting, and on Thursday urged Republican members to advance the bill to kickstart a debate on domestic terrorism and strengthening gun laws to prevent future mass shootings.

"Today is the day we can begin to debate on how to make these shootings less likely. And there's an additional benefit to moving forward today — it's a chance to have a larger debate to consider amendments on gun safety legislation in general, not just for those motivated by racism, as vital as it is to do that," the Democratic leader said on the Senate floor before the vote.

"I know that many members on the other side hold views that are different than the views on this side of the aisle, so, let us move on this bill. Let us proceed. And then, they can bring them to the floor," he added.

The bill passed the Democratic-led House days after the Buffalo shooting, when a self-described white supremacist targeted a grocery store in a largely Black neighborhood and killed 10 people. One House Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, voted with Democrats to approve the bill.

The legislation would require the FBI, Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to open offices dedicated to combating domestic terrorism and create a task force to address white supremacy in the U.S. military. The three agencies would be tasked with crafting a report every six months examining "the domestic terrorism threat posed by White supremacists and neo-Nazis, including White supremacist and neo-Nazi infiltration of Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies and the uniformed service."

Republican lawmakers argued the legislation would not have prevented the attack in Buffalo, and unfairly maligned police officers and members of the military.

"Today we will have a bill before us ostensibly titled and ostensibly about the subject of domestic terrorism. But this bill would more accurately be called, the Democrat plan to brand and insult our police and soldiers as white supremacists and neo-Nazis. How insulting," GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said on the floor.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the majority whip, stressed that the bill would not establish new crimes under federal law or grant new authority to federal law enforcement agencies.

"What we're doing is asking the federal agencies who have the responsibility of national security to give us timely reports on the incidents of domestic terrorism," Durbin said. "It's not an imagined crime. We see the reality of it way too often. We just saw it two weeks ago in Buffalo, New York."

The shooting in Texas, in which 19 students and two teachers were shot and killed by a gunman wielding an AR-15 rifle, sparked renewed efforts by Democrats to enact further restrictions on guns, a goal that has proved elusive for nearly a decade since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Ahead of the vote, Schumer said Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a staunch gun control advocate whose district included Sandy Hook when he served in the House, has opened talks with Republican senators to see if the two sides can find common ground on gun legislation. But Schumer said the talks are "not an invitation to negotiate indefinitely." 

"If these negotiations do not bear any fruit, the Senate will vote on gun legislation" when it returns from its Memorial Day recess in June, Schumer added.

Murphy told reporters at the Capitol that the upcoming recess could help spur negotiations with GOP lawmakers, saying it's "easier to work those issues outside of Washington rather than when we're here." 

"We need at least a week to work through these tough issues," he said, adding that lawmakers planned to hold a series of meetings on Thursday and next week to try to produce a bipartisan proposal.

"Right now we're just trying to find what the potential common ground is amongst Republicans. So, that certainly could be in the background check space. It could be in the red flag space," Murphy said, referring to laws adopted by some states in recent years that allow courts to order the confiscation of firearms from those deemed to be a risk to themselves or others.

Nikole Killion contributed reporting.

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