A GOP breakthrough on gun safety, but Dems opposing Biden’s gas-tax pitch

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A GOP breakthrough on gun safety, but Dems opposing Biden’s gas-tax pitch

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A remarkable thing just happened on Capitol Hill, one that many skeptics, including me, thought we’d never see.

There was a compromise. What’s more, it was a compromise on one of the most volatile and sensitive issues facing the country, gun control.

Fourteen Republican senators broke ranks with party orthodoxy and the NRA in a test vote over a series of modest measures aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people. That means it will clear any filibuster and undoubtedly pass within days.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, both voted in favor of advancing the gun control bill.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, both voted in favor of advancing the gun control bill.
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Of course, the fact that it took mass slaughter in Texas and Buffalo to prompt such steps favored by most of the public may not win any awards in courage, but given our hyperpolarized politics, it’s a significant moment.

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What’s harder to understand is another proposal – this one from President Biden – on suspending the federal gas tax for three months. That’s not because of the substance – everyone knows this is a campaign gimmick that wouldn’t have much impact – but because it’s almost certain to fail. Politico called it “likely doomed.”

The reason: Democratic leaders don’t like the idea.

“I fully understand that the gas tax holiday alone is not going to fix the problem,” Biden said in yesterday’s speech. “But it will provide families some immediate relief. Just a little bit of breathing room as we continue working to bring down prices for the long haul.” He also urged oil companies to lower prices, which is not happening.

Now I believe in politics that doing something beats nothing, even if the savings would be minimal in an age of five-buck-a-gallon gas – if they reached consumers at all. But Biden’s speech yesterday made no sense if he can’t get the thing passed. 

With the president facing widespread criticism for being ineffective, how does it help him if he’s unable to control his own party? Shouldn’t this be a pre-cooked deal with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer? It’s the Joe Manchin problem all over again. Maybe the Democrats will go along to help their leader save face, but that’s a big gamble. 

After weeks of media hype and legislative wrangling over guns, the Senate gang came through with actual legislative text, not press-release promises. Most of the credit goes to Democrat Chris Murphy and Republican John Cornyn.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, arrives to meet with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., arrive for more bipartisan talks on how to rein in gun violence, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 15, 2022.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, arrives to meet with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., arrive for more bipartisan talks on how to rein in gun violence, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 15, 2022.
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Murphy was a Connecticut congressman during the Sandy Hook mass shooting a decade ago and has made this a personal crusade. He told MSNBC that during the last recess, lawmakers heard the anguish of parents for the safety of their kids and that changed the atmosphere.

Cornyn is a conservative Texas senator who felt he had to respond to the Uvalde massacre in his state, and recently got booed at a GOP convention. He could have engaged in the usual stalling until the pressure died down, as after so many mass shootings, and his was not an easy stance to take in the Lone Star State.

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“I’m committed to getting a result here,” Cornyn told Politico. “And I understand that some people are unwilling to listen.”

With Mitch McConnell joining in the affirmative vote – and calling it “a common-sense package of popular steps” – the GOP dissenters got well past the magic number of 60. This is not like McConnell and other Republicans going along on a Biden infrastructure bill, since everyone likes roads and bridges. 

Here’s what the measure would do. Rather than raise the age for purchasing semi-automatic rifles to 21, it gives authorities 10 business days to review juvenile and mental health records of buyers under that age. The law would give states millions to fund red-flag laws, if they choose to opt in. Plus there are tougher penalties for “straw” purchases through a third party, and millions more for school safety and mental-health programs.

President Biden speaks about inflation and supply chain issues at the Port of Los Angeles, Friday, June 10, 2022, in Los Angeles. Democrats and Republicans do not support Biden's gas tax.

President Biden speaks about inflation and supply chain issues at the Port of Los Angeles, Friday, June 10, 2022, in Los Angeles. Democrats and Republicans do not support Biden’s gas tax.
(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

As for the “boyfriend loophole” that threatened the talks, it would ban purchases by domestic abusers who are serious dating partners in a current or recent relationship. But those convicted of a misdemeanor could regain their gun rights five years later.

As if to underscore how even this package is a bridge too far for most Republicans, Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise – who was shot by a crazed liberal gunman at a baseball practice five years ago – say they will lead the fight against the compromise.

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And Donald Trump, who once vowed to take on the NRA but later backed off, denounced it on Truth Social:

“The deal on ‘Gun Control’ currently being structured and pushed in the Senate by the Radical Left Democrats, with the help of Mitch McConnell, RINO Senator John Cornyn of Texas, and others, will go down in history as the first step in the movement to TAKE YOUR GUNS AWAY.” 

It’s interesting that opponents often make the slippery-slope argument rather than address the actual details of what is being put before Congress.

It would be naive to believe this augurs a new era of bipartisan cooperation. The horror of what happened in that Uvalde fourth-grade classroom – made all the worse by the police director’s admission of an “abject failure” in which armed officers waited an hour and did nothing – created enormous public pressure.

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And Republicans certainly aren’t going to give Biden a break on the gas-tax pitch, especially since they don’t believe in the idea and the thing seems dead on arrival.

But a gun compromise is so unbelievably rare in a deeply divided Congress that often seems impervious to public pressure.

Howard Kurtz currently serves as host of FOX News Channel’s (FNC) MediaBuzz (Sundays 11 a.m.-12 p.m. ET). Based in Washington, D.C., he joined the network in July 2013 and debuted on Special Report with Bret Baier to discuss the media’s coverage of the George Zimmerman murder trial.