Indy DC Download: House Democrats vote to block Trump emergency declaration and approve gun control legislation

March 2, 2019
In The News

House Democrats last week celebrated the passage of a resolution blocking President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration and long-sought gun control bills that would require universal background checks for gun purchases as well as extend the time for the background checks to be completed.

But with opposition from Trump and the Senate GOP, the measures are unlikely to become law.

“Today’s vote protects the founders’ constitutional intent by ensuring separation between the executive and legislative branch. There is no emergency on our southern border,” Rep. Steven Horsford said in a release following the House resolution vote on Tuesday.

“Taking action to reduce gun violence is long overdue and we’re just getting started,” Rep. Dina Titus wrote on Twitter after the vote on universal background checks on Wednesday.

The resolution and the gun control legislation were supported by all of the Nevada delegation’s House Democrats. Republican Rep. Mark Amodei voted against all of the measures.

But House Republicans did score a victory on that gun control bill by using a House procedure, which offers the minority a final attempt to amend a measure, to add a provision that would require that Immigration and Customs Enforcement be notified of undocumented gun purchasers. Democratic Rep. Susie Lee was one of 26 Democrats who joined Republicans, like Amodei, and voted for the so-called motion to recommit (MTR), which passed 220 to 209 on Wednesday.

“It is already illegal for undocumented individuals to purchase or possess a firearm, and this vote reinforces that,” Lee’s spokesman Renzo Olivari said. “But most importantly, the House passed the most significant gun safety legislation in decades, and did so on a bipartisan basis.”

MTRs rarely pass, but the vote on the MTR Wednesday was the second time this year that Democrats have joined with Republicans to add GOP-drafted provisions to legislation on the House floor. Earlier in February, Democrats voted unanimously with Republicans on a MTR to include language condemning anti Semitism in a resolution withdrawing U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

During her weekly press conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that she would like her fellow Democrats to vote against all MTRs.

“It’s a ‘gotcha’ on the part of the opposition,” she said. “Let’s make life easy, just vote against them.”

Her comment came as reports emerged that she urged Democrats at a closed-door meeting Thursday that she plans to do a better job to keep her caucus together and urged them to reject voting for MTRs. Democrats are also debating whether to get rid of the MTR. At her press conference, Pelosi said that the MTR issue could be considered by the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, which was created by the Democrats in January.

“I think that’s an appropriate place for some of that discussion to take place,” Pelosi said. “In the meantime, vote no.”

Emergency declaration

The National Emergencies Act requires the Senate to take up the resolution within 18 days from House passage. It only needs 51 votes to pass the upper chamber and looks like it could get those votes if all 47 Democrats vote to support it and four Republicans join them. GOP Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have all said they plan to back the Democratic resolution.

However Trump said he would veto the bill if it gets to his desk, and it seems unlikely that either chamber would be able to muster the two-thirds vote required to override a veto.

The resolution comes after President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration in order to tap funds designated for military construction projects in order to finance the construction of a wall on the border with Mexico, his signature promise during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump’s move followed his failed effort to have Congress appropriate $5.7 billion for the wall, a figure Democrats rejected. The impasse led to a historically long, 35-day shutdown of about a quarter of the federal government. The government reopened after congressional Republicans and Democrats struck a deal that included just $1.37 billion for border security.

The emergency declaration allows Trump to access to $3.5 billion for the wall from previously appropriated military construction spending. Trump also says he will reprogram $2.5 billion from the Defense Department’s counternarcotics program and $600 million from the funds collected by the Treasury Department through asset forfeiture. All together, with the $1.37 billion from the spending package, the president would then have about $8 billion to build a wall. But those funds are expected to be tied up by lawsuits that have been filed against the president’s declaration.

Gun control bill

While House Democrats reveled in passage of the gun control measures last week, the celebration will not likely extend to the GOP-controlled Senate where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky controls the agenda.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that she believes there will be pressure from the public on the Senate to act.

“I think the public is tired of moments of silence at times of mass murders and high-profile tragedies,” Pelosi said. “But, these tragedies happen in the lives of American people every single day of the week.”

But McConnell has shown no sign of giving in.

One bill would require a background check for all gun sales. About one in five gun sales are conducted without a background check, including private sales at gun shows and on websites that sell guns online, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

The other measure would extend the initial background check review period from three to 10 days. Under current law, the sale of a firearm can proceed if a background check is not completed within three days. After that initial 10-business day period, if a background check is not completed, a purchaser may request an escalated review to spur the FBI to complete its investigation. If the background check is not resolved after the additional 10 business day escalated review, the purchase may proceed.

Even before the deadly shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on Oct. 1, 2017, taking action to prevent gun violence has been a priority for Democratic members of the delegation.

“It’s about time that Congress finally listens to the overwhelming majority of Americans and passes bipartisan background check legislation,” Lee said in a statement. “Two years ago, Nevadans made it clear that they wanted background checks to prevent more senseless violence by keeping guns out the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. This year background checks became law in our state, and I’m hopeful that it will soon become law across the nation.”

The vote was also personal for Horsford, who lost his father to gun violence when he was 19 years old.

Yucca Mountain

Sen. Lamar Alexander, Republican from Tennessee, had planned to lead a trip to visit Yucca Mountain Friday with five other senators and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, but postponed the trip when Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, had a scheduling conflict. Alexander and Feinstein lead the Senate Appropriations Committee and Energy and Water Subcommittee, which oversees the budget for the Department of Energy (DOE).

Alexander said that he plans to reschedule the trip. Others set to go on the visit included Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Jacky Rosen, who said they planned to make the case about why building a repository at Yucca Mountain is a bad idea.

The visit, which was quietly arranged, sparked concern from Gov. Steve Sisolak who wrote to Trump Thursday seeking to meet about Yucca and about a secret shipment of plutonium that was sent to the state.

“On behalf of Nevada’s over three million residents, I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss with you these matters of critical importance to my state,” he wrote.

Sisolak’s letter comes as Democratic Reps. Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford wrote to the president Thursday urging him not to request funding for the project in his budget. Trump has called funding for Yucca in each of the budgets he’s submitted to Congress. The fiscal 2020 budget is expected to be released March 11.

Also last week, a group of academics met on Capitol Hill to discuss a report they authored that would revamp nuclear waste disposal policy.

The report called on Congress to establish a nuclear utility-owned, not-for-profit corporation that would oversee the disposal of commercially produced waste. The report calls for more input from state, local and tribal communities when finding a place to put the waste and provides an opportunity for the localities and state to veto the project. The authors envision more than one community interested in taking the nation’s waste. However, if only one location is found to be suitable, Congress could override a local or state veto with a supermajority vote in both chambers.

“Nothing would exclude Yucca Mountain, nothing would exclude southeast New Mexico from stepping forward, and maybe other communities,” said Stanford University nuclear expert Rodney Ewing who helped draft the report.

He added that in Canada, there were initially 23 communities that were interested in possibly becoming the site for a national waste repository and those sites were winnowed down to five sites.

“They involved communities and this is what we would like to see in the United States,” Ewing said.

Miscellany

Meanwhile, the House last week also passed a public lands bill that included a provision that would permanently renew the authorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses money from offshore oil and gas leasing for public-lands conservation. The Senate passed the bill last month and it now goes to the president for his signature.

“In Nevada, we treasure our public lands and we know they must be protected for future generations to enjoy,” Titus said in a release. “That’s why I’m proud to support the most consequential conservation agreement in years, which includes the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.”

Last week also saw Rosen introduce her first bill as a senator. The measure would provide tax breaks to encourage companies to hire veterans who are using their GI Bill benefits.

“I’m confident this commonsense legislation will put student vets on the pathway towards success and will continue working on bipartisan solutions to help our veterans transition back to civilian life,” Rosen said in a statement, adding that Nevada is home to more than 200,000 veterans.

Finally, the Senate confirmed Andrew Wheeler for EPA, but Cortez Masto and Rosen opposed his nomination.

“Andrew Wheeler is a former coal lobbyist who has repeatedly demonstrated that he is willing to undermine Americans’ health and the conservation of our environment in favor of big polluters,” Cortez Masto wrote on Twitter before she voted against the nomination.

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.