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“Don’t Believe It For A Minute”: Are The NRA And Trump Moderating On Guns? Not On Your Life

The headlines today are full of surprising news on guns, from some of the least likely sources: Donald Trump, the Republican Party, and the National Rifle Association. “Trump to meet with NRA about banning gun sales for terror watch list.” “Trump Veers From Party Line on Gun Control.” “In wake of Orlando shootings, gun control getting a fresh look from GOP.” And even “NRA Announces Bizarrely Sane Position on Selling Guns to Terrorists.”

Don’t believe it for a minute. This new effort to make it more difficult for people on the federal government’s terrorism watch list to buy guns is going to meet the same fate as every other gun control measure in Congress.

Yesterday, Trump tweeted, “I will be meeting with the NRA, who has endorsed me, about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no fly list, to buy guns.” He can talk to them about that if it’s what he wants (which I doubt it is), but it won’t change their minds, because the NRA has a very specific position on the question of banning gun sales to those on the watch list, one you have to read carefully to understand. Here’s what they say:

The NRA believes that terrorists should not be allowed to purchase or possess firearms, period.  Anyone on a terror watchlist who tries to buy a gun should be thoroughly investigated by the FBI and the sale delayed while the investigation is ongoing.  If an investigation uncovers evidence of terrorist activity or involvement, the government should be allowed to immediately go to court, block the sale, and arrest the terrorist.  At the same time, due process protections should be put in place that allow law-abiding Americans who are wrongly put on a watchlist to be removed.  That has been the position of Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.) and a majority of the U.S. Senate.

So: if someone is proven to be a terrorist, the NRA is opposed to letting them buy a gun and would prefer that instead they be arrested. Good to know! Now what about that investigation they want the FBI to undertake before the sale is completed? The reference to John Cornyn is important, because what the NRA supports is an amendment Cornyn proposed back in December, which was defeated in the Senate. It said that when someone on the watch list tries to buy a gun, the Justice Department would have 72 hours to file an emergency petition to a court, inform the gun buyer, allow the buyer to participate with counsel, then convince the judge that there is “probable cause to believe that the transferee has committed or will commit an act of terrorism.” Only then would the sale be stopped.

In practice, how often is the government going to be able to conduct an investigation, assemble an ironclad case, get in front of a judge, and get the judge to rule that the buyer has already committed terrorist acts or is about to, all within 72 hours? Basically never.

That’s in contrast to this amendment from Sen. Dianne Feinstein that Democrats now want to pass, which would allow the Justice Department to stop a gun sale not only to anyone on the watch list but anyone who had been on the watch list in the last five years (Omar Mateen had been on the watch list but had been removed), based on a “reasonable suspicion” (a much lower standard than probable cause) that the person had been engaged in or prepared for some involvement in terrorism.

In other words, Feinstein’s amendment would allow Justice to stop a gun sale to pretty much anybody on the watch list they suspected was a threat, while Cornyn’s amendment would make it almost impossible for Justice to stop a sale to anyone who didn’t already have a bomb strapped to their chest.

We should acknowledge that there are legitimate questions about the watch list itself. Many critics argue that it’s too broad and is full of people who have no involvement with terrorism. And there’s a positive and negative side to Feinstein’s five-year provision. It would mean that someone like Mateen might be identified, but it could also mean that a lot of people who justifiably got themselves off the watch list, and should never have been on it in the first place, could now face bureaucratic hassle and extra government attention they don’t deserve when they want to buy guns. So perhaps this debate could lead members of both parties to take a good look at how the list is operating and come up with a plan to reform it so that it focuses only on people who are genuinely suspicious.

But to return to the NRA and the Republican position represented by the Cornyn amendment, it has a gigantic loophole, one they themselves created. Let’s say you’re on the watch list, and you want to buy yourself an AR-15. You go to your local gun store, but the sale gets stopped by the government. What do you do now? Well, all you have to do is go to a gun show — there’s probably one in your area this weekend — and buy from one of the sellers in attendance who aren’t federally licensed dealers. Or you could go to one of the many online gun marketplaces, and get one there. Or you could find someone in your area selling guns privately, and buy it from them. Because we don’t have a system of universal background checks — which the NRA bitterly opposes and helped kill after the Newtown massacre when it was moving through Congress and had the support of up to 90 percent of the public in polls — there are multiple ways to get just about whatever gun you want no matter who you are.

That’s how the NRA wants it, and that’s how they’re going to work to keep it. And the Republican Party is their partner in this effort. Despite the fact that many kinds of restrictions on guns are broadly popular, even with Republican voters and gun owners themselves, the GOP has not only adopted the NRA’s categorical opposition to any and all restrictions, it has moved that belief to the very center of Republican ideology, along with the commitment to low taxes, small government, and the elimination of abortion rights. While we might see a Republican officeholder here and there buck the party and the NRA on this issue — for example, Rob Portman of Ohio, a vulnerable senator up for reelection this year, is now offering some conditional support for keeping those on the watch list from buying guns — their opposition to both Feinstein’s amendment and a companion Democratic proposal for universal background checks will remain nearly unanimous.

Finally, there’s the question of what Trump actually believes on this issue, and what positions he’ll take. Here’s my prediction: Within the next day or two, Trump is going to walk back his implied support for something like what Democrats are advocating and adopt the NRA position. I suspect this will follow a pattern we’ve seen before, in which out of simple ignorance Trump says something that alarms Republicans, then gets told what his position should be, at which point he changes it. The classic case was when he said women should be punished for getting abortions, and was then told that anti-choice ideology has it that women are helpless victims with no agency, so he walked it back.

For all his transparently phony commitment to the Second Amendment, Trump probably hadn’t thought about this particular issue before, so he didn’t know what he was supposed to say. Once he does, he’ll fall in line. Republicans will kill the Democratic proposals, and we’ll be right back where we started.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June 16, 2016

June 21, 2016 Posted by | Diane Feinstein, Donald Trump, Gun Control, John Cornyn, National Rifle Association | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Meaningful Deterrent”: Senate Republicans Rediscover The Value Of ‘Pinata Politics’

Almost exactly 10 years ago, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) was concerned about Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito facing “attacks” from Senate Democrats. Eventually, the Texas Republican said at the time, senators “will need to come to terms with our confirmation process.” Cornyn added that treating nominees “more like pinatas than human beings” is “something none of us should be willing to tolerate.”

That was when there was a Republican president in the White House. Now that President Obama is the one doing the nominating, Cornyn is apparently less concerned about Pinata Politics.

Even though Senate Republicans have no intention of holding hearings on President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, that doesn’t mean he or she won’t be dragged through the mud.

And the chamber’s No. 2 Republican made that clear to a small cluster of reporters Monday, saying he believed the nominee, “will bear some resemblance to a pinata.”

A decade ago, Cornyn characterized this as “something none of us should be willing to tolerate,” but this year, one gets the impression that the Senate Majority Whip not only tolerates the same practices he denounced, he also intends to be one of the lawmakers holding the stick, swinging for candy.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was unimpressed with the rhetoric. “Senator Cornyn has now taken the next step and suggested – without knowing who this nominee is, without considering what their record is, what their experience is, how qualified they are for the job – he is suggesting that they’ll be subjected to bashing by Republicans,” Earnest told reporters yesterday. “It’s unclear for what reason, other than the president of the United States has chosen to fulfill his constitutional responsibility to nominate someone to fill a vacancy.”

That said, if Cornyn and the GOP’s tolerance for Pinata Politics is intended to intimidate potential nominees – “It’s a nice career you have there, it’d be a shame if we had to beat you with a stick” – it might be working.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval’s (R) was floated as a possible choice for the Supreme Court, though he soon after withdrew his name from consideration. Yesterday, as MSNBC reported, a high-profile member of the president’s cabinet did the same thing.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has “asked not to be considered” for nomination to the Supreme Court to take the spot formerly occupied by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the Justice Department said Tuesday.

Today, The Hill reported that another possible contender also bowed out.

Federal Appellate Judge Adalberto Jordan has taken himself out of consideration to become President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, CNN reported Wednesday.

 The Miami-based judge was reportedly a contender to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and would have been the first Cuban-American to sit on the high court.

Of course, people may have all kinds of reasons to withdraw from consideration, but it’s easy to imagine Republican rhetoric about pinatas serving as a meaningful deterrent.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 9, 2016

March 11, 2016 Posted by | John Cornyn, Senate Republicans, U. S. Constitution, U. S. Supreme Court Nominees | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Lots Of Minority People Are Already Voting”: Top Senate Republican Rejects Call For Voting-Rights Fix

It was just last month when much of the nation’s attention turned to Selma, Alabama, where Americans saw former President George W. Bush stand and applaud a call for Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act with a bipartisan bill. Many wondered if, maybe sometime soon, Congress’ Republican majority might agree to tackle the issue.

Voting-rights advocates probably shouldn’t hold their breath. Soon after the event honoring those who marched at the Edmund Pettus Bridge a half-century ago, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) dismissed the very idea of working on the issue. “I think Eric Holder and this administration have trumped up and created an issue where there really isn’t one,” the Texas Republican said.

Asked if Congress should repair the Voting Rights Act formula struck down by the Supreme Court, Cornyn replied, simply, “No.”

Yesterday at the National Press Club, another key GOP senator echoed the sentiment.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Monday he doesn’t expect to bring up legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act, because lots of minority people are already voting. […]

“It depends on what you want to fix,” he said. “If you want to fix more minorities voting, more minorities are already voting.”

The Iowa Republican said the “original intent” of the Voting Rights Act is no longer applicable because “in the last 50 years, it’s made great progress.”

As a factual matter, it’s true that lots of voters from minority communities vote. It’s also true that the nation has made “great progress” as compared to a half-century ago.

But given every relevant detail, Grassley’s posture is tough to defend.

Between the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act and a coordinated Republican campaign, half the nation’s states “have adopted measures making it harder to vote” since 2011. Ari Berman recently added that from 2011 to 2015, “395 new voting restrictions have been introduced” in 49 states.

To see the Voting Rights Act as some kind of quaint relic, no longer needed or valuable in today’s society, is to deny the basics of recent events. The organized assault on voting rights in recent years is unlike anything Americans have seen since the Jim Crow era, making the Voting Rights Act critically important.

What’s more, the Supreme Court’s ruling on the VRA came with a call from the majority justices for lawmakers to craft a new formula for federal scrutiny. There was, in other words, an expectation that Congress, which reauthorized the VRA repeatedly and easily over the decades, would respond to the court ruling with a revised policy.

And yet, here are leading Senate Republicans effectively responding, two years later, “Nah, let’s not bother to do anything at all.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 28, 2015

April 29, 2015 Posted by | Chuck Grassley, John Cornyn, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Netanyahu Directly Challenges Official U.S. Policy”: Republicans Are Approaching A Very Dangerous Line On This One

Under the leadership of President Obama, the official United States position is to attempt to negotiate an agreement with Iran to stop their development of nuclear weapons. We are currently engaged in those negotiations in concert with the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council (Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France) plus Germany.

Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu recently said this at his weekly Cabinet Meeting:

We will do everything and will take any action to foil this bad and dangerous agreement.

As the elected leader of Israel, it is his right to take that position. But it puts him at direct odds with official U.S. policy and members of the Security Council. In the above statement, he is being perfectly clear about that – regardless of the outcome of the negotiations.

It is in light of that position that we should view, not just the recent Republican invitation for Netanyahu to address the members of Congress, but this statement from Sen. John Cornyn.

Senate Republicans on Thursday moved to officially welcome Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the U.S. ahead of his planned speech to Congress next month, the latest development in a saga that has roiled politics in both countries.

Almost all GOP senators were listed as co-sponsors of a resolution by Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) saying the Senate “eagerly awaits the address of Prime Minister Netanyahu before a joint session of the United States Congress” and reaffirms the U.S. commitment to standby Israel in “times of uncertainty.”

“During this time of such great instability and danger in the Middle East, the United States should be unequivocal about our commitment to one of our closest and most important allies,” Mr. Cornyn said in a statement.

When the Prime Minister of Israel publicly promises to do anything he can to foil the official policy of the United States, it is our duty to be equivocal in our support of him. Republicans are approaching a very dangerous line on this one.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 14, 2015

February 16, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Policy, John Cornyn | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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