“The surface explanation seems like it would be fairly simple, but I know that as they try to reduce it to legislative text, I think it’s gotten a little bit more uncomfortable,” said Sen. John Thune, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s number two man. Thune is not one of the negotiators, but is clearly speaking for leadership. It really should be that simple, because we are talking about someone who has been convicted of violence against an intimate partner. Being convicted of violence should be enough in any context whatsoever to prevent someone from getting their hands on a gun.
With the prevalence of homicide by intimate partners, not to mention stalkers, it really shouldn’t be hard. After all, senators have been talking on this issue for years: The so-called boyfriend loophole kept the Violence Against Women Act from being reauthorized for over three years. It expired in December 2018 and was finally reauthorized this spring, when Democrats just let the gun loophole issue go.
The current stalemate suggests that the issue is far less about the difficulty of crafting the language than the “Cornyn Con” in action.
Republicans don’t want this provision—which is opposed by the NRA—to pass this time around, either. So they’re using the tactic McConnell and Texas Sen. John Cornyn have relied upon for years: Take an issue that’s extremely popular with the public—comprehensive immigration reform, for example—and put Cornyn in the lead on negotiating because he has credibility with Democrats and traditional media. God knows why.
Then let him slowly whittle away at whatever “agreement” was ostensibly made at the beginning of the negotiations—blaming Democrats all the while for refusing to compromise—until it’s done. And everyone can throw up their hands and blame “partisan gridlock.”
One Republican familiar with the talks is being far less cagey than Cornyn. Take it or leave it, they told a Politico reporter. “[E]ither the [D]emocrats accept what the Republicans are asking for on boyfriend loophole, or it will be dropped entirely.” Another tried to back away from that, saying that it’s still “under discussion.” The ultimatum part of the Cornyn Con doesn’t come quite yet in the negotiating sequence.
It’s worth remembering that 10 Republicans signed onto the agreement that was announced Sunday. They agreed in principle to the inclusion of his provision. Then Cornyn moved the goalposts, saying he wanted at least 20 Republicans on board. He’s moved the goalposts and he’s moved the deadlines—every week since the shooting, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has promised a floor vote by the end of the week.
Now with the Senate gone on a long weekend for the Juneteenth holiday, the Senate would have to work like lightning to get legislative language written and a bill on the floor by next week. Then they would have in essence three days to pass it before heading off for another two-week recess for the Fourth of July holiday. It’s happened before in the Senate, moving with that kind of alacrity. They did it to protect Supreme Court justices because Republicans wanted it. But it won’t happen to protect thousands of innocent lives.
At this point, Democrats should call the negotiations off. Schumer should bring the bill passed by the House to the floor first thing next week. Then he should follow up with votes on an assault-style rifle ban, universal background checks, and high-capacity magazine bans. He should make Republicans vote against every single thing American voters want.
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