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After Buffalo, House Democrats to tee up vote on domestic terrorism bill

Democrats face limited legislative options in responding to the mass shooting, with Republicans largely opposed to advancing any gun control measures.
Image: Buffalo shooting
Investigators work Monday at the scene of the shooting in which 10 people were killed at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.Matt Rourke / AP

WASHINGTON — In response to the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, House Democrats plan to tee up a vote on legislation to combat the growing threat of white supremacist and other domestic extremist groups.

Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., told reporters Monday night that his panel will hold a hearing and vote to send the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act to the House floor this week.

“I think [the bill] takes on added urgency given current events,” McGovern said, referring to the deadly shooting in Buffalo, where a gunman shot 13 people, 11 of whom are Black, at a supermarket. An 18-year-old white man is in custody.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who controls the floor schedule, said the leadership team is working on both the domestic terrorism bill and separate legislation to address the infant formula shortage.

Ten people were killed in Saturday's shooting, and three others were injured. The suspect is alleged to have written and posted a "manifesto" espousing the white supremacist “great replacement” conspiracy theory, which baselessly holds that a cabal of Jewish people and Democratic elites is plotting to “replace” white Americans with people of color through immigration policies, higher birth rates and other social transformations.

Earlier Monday, Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., called on Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to bring his domestic terrorism bill to the House floor, arguing it could prevent attacks by violent extremists.

“The rise of racially motivated violent extremism is a serious threat to Americans across the country," Schneider said in a statement. "Congress hasn’t been able to ban the sale of assault weapons."

Democrats face limited legislative options in responding to a massacre that FBI officials said was being investigated as both a “hate crime and a case of racially-motivated violent extremism.” The House passed two bills to expand background checks for gun purchases last year, but with stiff GOP opposition the bills didn't have the 60 votes needed to pass the evenly divided Senate.

“The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act is what Congress can do this week to try to prevent future Buffalo shootings — to prevent future California shootings, future El Paso shootings, future Charleston shootings, future Pittsburgh shootings, future Wisconsin shootings,” Schneider said.

In a visit to Buffalo on Tuesday, President Joe Biden will call on Congress to act on “weapons of war” and access to guns for people with serious mental illness, a White House official said Monday evening.

Schneider's bill, which the House passed by voice vote in 2020, would create domestic terrorism offices within the Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to facilitate better coordination and help the agencies identify risks and homegrown threats. It also would require biannual reporting about the state of domestic terrorism threats.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., introduced a companion bill in the upper chamber, but it was blocked by Republicans when Democrats tried to pass it by unanimous consent in 2020. The latest House version has 207 co-sponsors, including three Republicans.

Schneider said that the warnings signs were apparent before the Buffalo shooting and that Congress must take steps to address domestic threats.

“The government and law enforcement have failed to catch these signs, just as Congress has failed to appropriately combat domestic terrorism,” Schneider said. “As a result, ten people, most of them Black, are dead at a Buffalo supermarket. We cannot continue making excuses.”