Senate GOP unanimously blocks bill to combat domestic terrorism

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Senate Republicans refused to let the chamber even debate the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act.  

Senate Republicans blocked consideration of a bill on Thursday that would have made it easier for the federal government to prevent and respond to domestic terrorism.

All 48 Democratic senators present voted in favor of cloture on a motion to begin debate on the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act. At the end of voting, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer switched his yes vote to no to give himself the option of forcing a vote to reconsider in the future, and the final tally was 47-47, short of the 60 votes required to stop a Republican filibuster.

The bill would mobilize federal agencies to examine domestic terrorism threats, improve interagency communication on potential attacks, and create new offices in the Department of Homeland Security, Justice Department, and Federal Bureau of Investigation to "monitor, analyze, investigate, and prosecute domestic terrorism."

A nearly identical version of the bill passed in the Democratic-controlled House in September 2020 with bipartisan supermajority support, but was one of hundreds of bills to die in the Republican-majority Senate controlled by then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

After a white man shot and killed 10 Black people on May 14 in Buffalo, New York, the House passed the bill again on May 18 by a vote of 222-203.

Though Republican Reps. Don Bacon of Nebraska, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, and Fred Upton of Michigan had co-sponsored the bill in the current Congress, all three of them voted against the bill. Indeed every Republican present except retiring Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger opposed the legislation. Many complained that the bill was insufficiently focused on left-wing terrorism.

Republican senators said the bill was too focused on right-wing violence.

Noting that the bill would address extremism within the military and law enforcement, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said in a floor speech that it was "the Democrat [sic] plan to brand and insult our police and soldiers as white supremacists and neo-Nazis." He suggested that racism was no longer a problem because he sees more interracial marriages today than when he grew up.

"The problem we have is that we have a bunch of people who define anyone they disagree with as terrorists, as extremists," Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida told Politico on Thursday. "We've reached a point in America now where the term 'extremist' is applied too liberally to people, that there's deep concern about how these entities will be used."

Studies have shown that in recent years, right-wing extremists have perpetrated the most acts of domestic terrorism even before the Jan. 6, 2021, riot by supporters of then-President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol. A February report by the Anti-Defamation League found that in nine of the past 10 years, the majority of extremism-related killings in the United States were carried out by people on the right. Extremists with ties to white supremacism were involved in 55% of those attacks.

But Republicans have criticized efforts under then-President Barack Obama and now under Biden to combat the very real threat of right-wing violence.

"This @DHSgov advisory says U.S. citizens who have committed no crime may be considered 'potential' terrorists based on what they post on social media or say regarding COVID-19 mandates," Rubio tweeted in February after the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning that "false or misleading narratives and conspiracy theories" online could create an environment ripe for future terrorist attacks.

Politico reported on Thursday that Minority Whip John Thune had falsely said that President Joe Biden's administration does not want or need legislation to fight domestic terrorism. "I just think if you look at the bill, the president's not asking for it. He says he's got the authority. Same thing from the Justice Department," the South Dakota Republican said. "I think it's a lot of stuff they already have authority to do. I think this is … more of a show vote."

In its official May 18 "Statement of Administration Policy," the White House made it clear that it strongly backs the bill:

The Administration supports House passage of H.R. 350, the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2022. The Administration supports efforts to counter domestic terrorism and looks forward to continuing to work with the Congress to authorize programs to counter domestic terrorism in a manner appropriate to the existing statutory regimes and constitutional protections, bolster resources to carry out this important work, and enable the legislation to achieve its goal of enhancing the current government-wide response to the evolving threat posed by domestic terrorism.

Schumer offered Thursday to allow an open debate on amendments proposed by Republican members if they would agree to begin a debate. "Even with long odds, the issue is so important, so raw to the American people, so personal to countless families who have missing children, that we must pursue that opportunity," he told his colleagues.

But the GOP minority rejected the offer, unanimously blocking any consideration of the bill.

A Morning Consult/Politico poll released Monday found more than two-thirds of registered voters back each of the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act's policy objectives.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.