WASHINGTON (AP) — The House passed legislation Friday to revive a ban on certain semi-automatic guns, the first vote of its kind in years and a direct response to the firearms often used in the crush of mass shootings ripping through communities nationwide.
Once banned in the U.S., the high-powered firearms are now widely blamed as the weapon of choice among young men responsible for many of the most devastating mass shootings. But Congress allowed the restrictions first put in place in 1994 on the manufacture and sales of the weapons to expire a decade later, unable to muster the political support to counter the powerful gun lobby and reinstate the weapons ban.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed the vote toward passage in the Democratic-run House, saying the earlier ban “saved lives.”
President Joe Biden hailed the House vote, saying, “The majority of the American people agree with this common sense action.” He urged the Senate to “move quickly to get this bill to my desk.”
The bill comes at a time of intensifying concerns about gun violence and shootings — the supermarket shooting in Buffalo, N.Y.; massacre of school children in Uvalde, Texas; and the July Fourth shootings of revelers in Highland Park, Ill.
Voters seem to be taking such election-year votes seriously as Congress splits along party lines and lawmakers are forced to go on the record with their views. A recent vote to protect same-sex marriages from potential Supreme Court legal challenges won a surprising amount of bipartisan support.
Biden was instrumental in helping secure the first semi-automatic weapons ban as a senator in 1994. The Biden administration said that for 10 years, while the ban was in place, mass shootings declined. “When the ban expired in 2004, mass shootings tripled,” the statement said.
Republicans stood firmly against limits on ownership of the high-powered firearms during an at times emotional debate ahead of voting.
“It’s a gun grab, pure and simple,” said Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa.
Said Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., “An armed America is a safe and free America.”
Democrats argued that the ban on the weapons makes sense, portraying Republicans as extreme and out of step with Americans.
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said the weapons ban is not about taking away Americans’ Second Amendment rights but ensuring that children also have the right “to not get shot in school.”
Pelosi displayed a poster of a gun company’s advertisement for children’s weapons, smaller versions that resemble the popular AR-15 rifles and are marketed with cartoon-like characters. “Disgusting,” she said.
In one exchange, two Ohio lawmakers squared off. “Your freedom stops where mine begins, and that of my constituents begins,” Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur told Republican Rep. Jim Jordan. “Schools, shopping malls, grocery stores, Independence Day parades shouldn’t be scenes of mass carnage and bloodshed.”
Jordan replied by inviting her to his congressional district to debate him on the Second Amendment, saying he believed most of his constituents “probably agree with me and agree with the United States Constitution.”
The bill would make it unlawful to import, sell or manufacture a long list of semi-automatic weapons. Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said it includes an exemption that allows for the possession of existing semi-automatic guns.
Reps. Chris Jacobs of New York and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania were the only Republicans to vote for the measure. The Democratic lawmakers voting no were Reps. Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Jared Golden of Maine, Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Vicente Gonzalez of Texas.
For nearly two decades, since the previous ban expired Democrats had been reluctant to revisit the issue and confront the gun lobby. But voter opinions appear to be shifting and Democrats dared to act before the fall election. The outcome will provide information for voters of where the candidates stand on the issue.
Jason Ouimet, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement following the vote that “barely a month after” the Supreme Court expanded gun rights “gun control advocates in Congress are spearheading an assault upon the freedoms and civil liberties of law-abiding Americans.”
He said the bill potentially bans millions of firearms “in blatant opposition to the Supreme Court’s rulings” that have established gun ownership as an individual right and expanded on it.
Among the semi-automatic weapons banned would be some 200-plus types of semi-automatic rifles, including AR-15s, and pistols. The restrictions would not apply to many other models.
Democrats had tried to link the weapons ban to a broader package of public safety measures that would have increased federal funding for law enforcement. It’s something centrist Democrats in tough re-election campaigns wanted to shield them from political attacks by their Republican opponents they are soft on crime.
Pelosi said the House will revisit the public safety bills in August when lawmakers are expected to return briefly to Washington to handle other remaining legislation, including Biden’s priority inflation-fighting package of health care and climate change strategies making its way in the Senate.
Congress passed a modest gun violence prevention package just last month in the aftermath of the tragic shooting of 19 school children and two teachers in Uvalde. That bipartisan bill was the first of its kind after years of failed efforts to confront the gun lobby, including after a similar 2012 mass tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
That law provides for expanded background checks on young adults buying firearms, allowing authorities to access certain juvenile records. It also closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole” by denying gun purchases for those convicted of domestic abuse outside of marriages.
The new law also frees up federal funding to the states, including for “red flag” laws that enable authorities to remove guns from those who would harm themselves or others.
But even that modest effort at halting gun violence came at time of grave uncertainty in the U.S. over restrictions on firearms as the more conservative Supreme Court is tackling gun rights and other issues.
Biden signed the measure two days after the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down a New York law that restricted people’s ability to carry concealed weapons.
This story was first published on July 29, 2022. It was updated on August 1, 2022 to correct the name of the executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action to Jason Ouimet, not Jason Quimet.
In campaign swing, Biden focuses on incumbent Democrats
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — President Joe Biden’s travel schedule before Tuesday’s midterm elections reveals his defensive stance in the campaign’s closing days: He’s spending the bulk of his time trying to hang on to seats that his party already holds.
Biden kicked off a four-state, three-day campaign swing on Thursday to support Democrats in competitive races in solidly blue California, Illinois and New Mexico as well as battleground Pennsylvania, where Biden has deep roots.
His first stop was Albuquerque, where he spoke about his student debt relief program by calling it “a game changer for so many people.”
Nearly 26 million people have applied for loan forgiveness, up 4 million from two weeks ago. About 16 million applications are expected to be approved by the week’s end, but no debt can be forgiven until a legal fight over the program is resolved.
“Republican members of Congress and Republican governors are doing everything they can, including taking us to court, to deny relief, even to their own constituents,” Biden said.
Speaking to young voters whose support Democrats are seeking, Biden said, “You represent the best of us.”
“Your generation is not going to be ignored,” he said. “You will not be shunned. You will not be silenced.”
His itinerary illustrates the limited political clout of a president who has been held at arm’s length by most Democrats in tough races this cycle. It also suggests that the president, whose approval rating remains underwater, has concluded that he can be most effective using the waning days before polls close to shore up support for Democratic candidates in areas that he easily won in 2020.
“Democrats are clearly on the defensive and that’s bearing out as the campaign comes to a close,” said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. “Their chances for gains don’t look realistic, so now you look to what you can preserve. The president’s travel schedule is reflective of where they see this cycle going.”
The president’s party typically faces significant losses during midterm elections. Since 1934, only Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934, Bill Clinton in 1998, and George W. Bush in 2002 saw their parties gain seats in the midterms.
Some recent presidents saw big losses in their first midterm races. Republicans under Donald Trump lost 40 House seats but gained two Senate seats in 2018; Democrats under Barack Obama lost 63 House seats and six Senate seats in 2010, and Democrats under Clinton lost 52 House seats and eight Senate seats in 1994.
The decision to deploy Biden to areas where he won handily in 2020 was made in part because of concern about voter energy in races that Democrats view as must-win. Party officials are also concerned about some candidates who have seen their races tighten in the final days of the campaign.
In New Mexico, a state Biden won by nearly 11 percentage points in 2020, he held the Albuquerque rally for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is facing a Republican challenge from former TV meteorologist Mark Ronchetti.
Fundraising by Ronchetti’s campaign has surged amid visits from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Ronchetti also received a social media endorsement from Trump despite his acknowledgment that Biden won in 2020.
Later Thursday, Biden was joining Rep. Mike Levin for a get-out-the vote event at a community college in Oceanside, California. Levin represents a district with a slight Democratic tilt that cuts through San Diego and Orange counties and that Biden carried by double digits in the 2020 presidential election. Republican nominee Brian Maryott has gone after Levin over inflation, gas prices and rising crime.
Biden is to spend part of Friday and Saturday in the Chicago area, where two-term incumbent Rep. Sean Casten is facing a stiff challenge from Republican Keith Pekau as he tries to hang on to a suburban district that Biden won by a double-digit percentage in 2020. The White House has yet to announce Biden’s plans for his time in Chicago.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Republican leaders, this week announced an $1.8 million ad buy to assist Pekau, the mayor of south suburban Orland Park. And Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, is due to campaign with Pekau in the district on Friday.
Casten’s campaign, in a fundraising email Wednesday, called the crush of super PAC money a “last-ditch effort to buy this seat” and implored his supporters to send him contributions for the campaign’s final stretch.
The president on Saturday will head to Pennsylvania to campaign with Obama for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro and Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman.
Pennsylvania Democrats are trying to keep control of the governor’s office, which is being vacated by Tom Wolf as he finishes his second term. Fetterman is locked in a tight race with Republican Mehmet Oz, vying for the seat being vacated by the retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.
Powerball grand prize climbs to $1B without a jackpot winner
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Powerball jackpot keeps getting larger because players keep losing.
It happened again Saturday night as no one matched all six numbers and won the estimated $825 million grand prize. That means the next drawing Monday night will be for a massive $1 billion, according to a statement by Powerball.
The winning numbers Saturday night were: white balls 19, 31, 40, 46, 57 and the red power ball 23.
The increased jackpot will remain the fifth-largest in U.S. history behind another Powerball prize and three Mega Millions lottery game jackpots. The biggest prize was a $1.586 billion Powerball jackpot won by three ticketholders in 2016.
Although the advertised top prize will be an estimated $1 billion, that is for winners who receive their winnings through an annuity paid over 29 years. Winners almost always opt for cash, which for Monday’s drawing will be an estimated $497.3 million.
Players who missed out on the latest grand prize in the 30-year-old lottery shouldn’t immediately toss away their receipts.
A Florida ticket holder matched all five white balls in Saturday’s drawing and increased the prize to $2 million by including the game’s “Power Play” feature. Six tickets won a $1 million prize by matching five white balls, including two in California, two in Michigan, one in Maryland and one in Texas.
Another 17 tickets won a $150,000 prize while there were 80 winners of $50,000 each. More than 3.8 million tickets won cash prizes totaling above $38 million, Powerball said.
It has been nearly three months since anyone hit all six numbers and took the lottery’s top prize, with a $206.9 million jackpot win in Pennsylvania on Aug. 3. Thanks to Powerball’s long odds of one in 292.2 million, there have now been 37 consecutive draws without a jackpot winner.
Powerball is played in 45 states, as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Trump’s subpoena and what’s next for the Jan. 6 panel
WASHINGTON (AP) — In an extraordinary step, the House Jan. 6 committee has voted unanimously to subpoena former President Donald Trump — a final effort to get the full story of the Capitol insurrection as the panel wraps up its work by the end of the year.
Trump still does not acknowledge the “former” in front of “president,” and he has been relentlessly hostile to the investigation. He called it a “charade and a witch hunt” in a letter to the committee on Friday — but notably did not mention the subpoena or say whether he would comply with the demand for his appearance.
The attempt to compel Trump’s testimony comes as the committee is tying together multiple investigative threads and compiling its final report. The panel is only authorized through this Congress, which ends on Jan. 3.
A look at what’s next as the panel sprints to its finish:
THE TRUMP SUBPOENA
The nine-member committee has interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses, including many of the former president’s top White House aides. And they have laid out a detailed timeline of Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat — including his inaction as his supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. But they still want to hear from Trump himself.
Now that a subpoena has been authorized — on Thursday — it must be delivered in writing to Trump. That step, expected early next week, will set a date for an interview and lay out requests for documents.
Trump and his lawyers will then decide how to respond. He could comply, negotiate with the committee, announce he will defy the subpoena or ignore it altogether. He could also go to court and try to stop it.
If Trump doesn’t comply, the panel will have to weigh the practical and political implications of a vote on holding him in contempt of Congress. If the full House voted to recommend such a charge, the Justice Department would then review the case.
The committee has taken that step with some of Trump’s allies who refused to comply with subpoenas, including Steve Bannon, who was convicted of contempt in July. But holding a former president in contempt would be another matter, an exceptional step for any Congress.
Even if he does comply, there’s reason to doubt that Trump’s appearance would help the investigation. He did respond to some written questions from special counsel Robert Mueller during the probe of Russian cooperation with his 2016 campaign. But his answers produced little or nothing to advance the investigation. More recently, he appeared for a deposition by the office of New York State Attorney General Letitia James — but invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 400 times in refusing to answer questions.
WHAT ABOUT PENCE?
The committee is still talking to lawyers for former Vice President Mike Pence, as it has been for months. But it is unclear whether the lawmakers will subpoena the vice president or ask him for testimony.
Several of Pence’s aides have talked to investigators, some providing great detail about his movements and state of mind as he resisted Trump’s pleas to object to the certification of electoral votes that day and try to overturn their defeat to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
Video shown Thursday at the committee’s final hearing before the midterm elections showed Pence coordinating with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer for help as the rioters were inside the building, some of them calling for Pence’s execution. The leaders were working with security officials to ensure that they could return to the Capitol and certify Biden’s victory.
A CRIMINAL REFERRAL?
The committee will also have to decide whether to refer any allegations of crimes to the Justice Department. While federal prosecutors are conducting their own investigations into Jan. 6 and Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, the congressional committee has its separate, massive trove of evidence.
Lawmakers on the panel have hinted multiple times over the past year that they will issue criminal referrals. At the hearing on Thursday, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the committee’s Republican vice chairwoman, said that the panel “may ultimately decide” to do so. She said they have “sufficient information to consider criminal referrals for multiple individuals.”
While such a referral would not force any action, it would amplify the political pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland as the department pursues its own probes.
The committee recently received more than 1.5 million pages of documents from the Secret Service. But lawmakers say they still don’t have everything they want.
The panel is working to verify the accounts of White House aides who described Trump’s actions on Jan. 6 as he tried to go to the Capitol and accompany his supporters, hundreds of whom eventually broke in. Security officials, along with many White House aides and GOP members of Congress, were vehemently opposed to the idea. Trump was livid and tried, ultimately unsuccessfully, to go to the Capitol anyway, according to several accounts aired by the committee.
California Rep. Pete Aguilar, a Democratic member of the panel, said the lawmakers “will be recalling witnesses and conducting further investigative depositions” based on the Secret Service material. The agency has not turned over text messages that it says were deleted.
The panel’s expected final action will be a massive report laying out evidence, findings and legislative recommendations to ensure nothing like Jan. 6 ever happens again. But it’s unclear how much of its investigative material will be released to the public.
In one of eight hearings last summer, Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, another Democratic member, said, “We have only shown a small fraction of what we have found.”
Lawmakers have made clear that the report will lay out what they view as the stakes for the country as many Republicans still believe, falsely, that the 2020 election was stolen and as Trump considers another run in 2024.
“With every effort to excuse or justify the conduct of the former president, we chip away at the foundation of our republic,” Cheney said at the hearing.