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Democrats seize Senate floor to protest inaction on gun legislation

The Hill logo The Hill 9/17/2019 Jordain Carney
Kirsten Gillibrand looking at the camera: Democrats seize Senate floor to protest inaction on gun legislation © Getty Images Democrats seize Senate floor to protest inaction on gun legislation

Democrats are taking to the Senate floor on Tuesday evening to try to raise awareness about the chamber's inaction on gun legislation after a recent spate of mass shootings.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), one of the first senators to speak as part of the Democratic talk-a-thon, singled out GOP Sen. Martha McSally (Ariz.), who was presiding over the chamber during her speech.

"This is something all of us should be caring about, especially from Arizona, where my dear friend Gabby Giffords was shot," Gillibrand said during a heated speech that was audible from outside the Senate chamber.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who is running for his party's presidential nomination, went after the National Rifle Association (NRA), saying, "It's long past time for us to beat the NRA on this issue."

"They're hiding from the vote," Bennet added, referring to Republicans. "It's their responsibility to vote, and there's only one person in America that can hold that vote, and that's [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell [R-Ky.]."

Democrats began speaking from the Senate floor around 5:20 p.m., with the Senate expected to remain in session late into Tuesday night.

More than 20 senators are expected to speak as part of the marathon effort, which is being organized by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

Democrats are clamoring for McConnell to bring up a universal background check bill passed by the House earlier this year.

But the legislation has garnered a veto threat from the White House, making it a non-starter in the Senate, where McConnell has said Trump has to support the bill in order for it to get a vote.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), a member of Democratic leadership, singled out McConnell while noting that the House-passed bill had been stuck in the Senate for roughly 200 days.

"While Mitch McConnell and President Trump wait for approval from big-money special interest, Americans are dying," she said. "It's time to act."

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) similarly knocked Republicans, arguing that they were barely moving legislation through the chamber and were instead focused on confirming various nominees put forward by Trump.

"Week after week after week, we vote on nomination after nomination after nomination. We hardly ever debate. We hardly ever vote on legislation to address the needs that the American people say are the primary concerns in their minds," he added.

The White House is currently negotiating with senators as they try to craft gun control legislation. Murphy and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) both said on Tuesday that they were still waiting to find out if Trump would back an expansion of background checks for gun sales.

White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland said on Tuesday that representatives from the administration would be meeting with lawmakers this week at Trump's request to try to find a bill that could clear Congress.

Ueland and Attorney General William Barr met on Tuesday with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has warned Trump against making a deal with Democrats.

"The president has asked us to engage with the Hill. ... We continue today and throughout this week to talk with members on both sides of the aisle, both sides of the Capitol as we work through all these public policy challenges to see whether or not there's a path forward on a legislative package in relation to mass gun violence," he said.

He added, "We got a lot of great input as you know. ... It's a collaborative two-way conversation."

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