Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer on Tuesday ripped into “radicalized” “MAGA Republicans” over GOP opposition to House Democrats’ domestic terrorism bill, signaling a biting showdown as the Senate takes up the measure this week.
The measure, which would create domestic terrorism units in the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and Justice Department, passed the Democrat-controlled House with just one Republican vote last week and is expected to sputter in the evenly divided Senate.
But in setting up a vote on the measure, Mr. Schumer revealed Democrats’ eagerness to use the vote as a platform to paint the GOP as a party of extremists.
“Every single House Republican voted against this bill last week,” the New York Democrat said Tuesday on the Senate floor — ignoring for rhetorical purposes, apparently, the lone GOP supporter, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. “If you wanted some proof that the MAGA wing of the Republican Party is taking over the whole party, there it is.”
The bill, which passed the House in a near party-line 222-203 vote, is part of the Democrats’ renewed push against domestic terrorism and racism in the wake of a self-avowed White supremacist’s deadly attack on a grocery store in a Black neighborhood in Buffalo.
The legislation had been stalled in the House over opposition from members of the far-left “Squad” who had concerns that the federal government lacks a clear definition of what constitutes a “domestic terrorist.”
But Democrats reinvigorated the bill two days after the Buffalo attack that left 10 dead, acting on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s vow to consider additional measures to “strengthen efforts to combat domestic terrorism.”
Soon after the shooting, Democrats and some Republicans blamed members of the GOP and conservative media outlets for the spread of the “great replacement” theory, which holds that non-White people are infiltrating America to wipe out Whites and diminish their political influence. The lawmakers said the spread of the ideology led to the shooting.
“House GOP leadership has enabled White nationalism, White supremacy, and antisemitism,” tweeted Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican who was ousted from her leadership position after feuds over former President Donald Trump.
“History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse. GOP leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them,” she said.
Mr. Schumer penned a letter to Fox News executives days after the shooting urging the network to “cease the reckless amplification of the so-called ‘Great Replacement’ theory on your network’s broadcasts.”
“For years, these types of beliefs have existed at the fringes of American life. However, this pernicious theory, which has no basis in fact, has been injected into the mainstream thanks in large part to a dangerous level of amplification by your network and its anchors,” Mr. Schumer wrote.
President Biden echoed the lawmakers’ sentiment in his remarks while visiting Buffalo, where he mourned the shooting as a “simple and straightforward” act of domestic terrorism, though stopped short of directly blaming Republicans.
“White supremacy is a poison … running through our body politic,” Mr. Biden said. “It’s been allowed to fester and grow right in front of our eyes.
“We have to refuse to live in a country where fear and lies are packaged for power and for profit,” he said.
While Saturday’s shooting renewed the push to crack down on domestic terrorism, the legislation is part of a steady drumbeat in Washington since the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol attack.
Over the summer, President Biden announced a sweeping strategy to deal with threats that, according to the administration, emerge from “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists and networks whose racial, ethnic, or religious hatred leads them towards violence.”
The Department of Homeland Security deemed the threat of “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists” a “national threat priority,” and in January, the Justice Department announced the formation of a specialized unit to combat domestic terrorism, saying FBI investigations into violent extremism have more than doubled since March 2020.
But the administration’s approach has raised concerns among Republican lawmakers, who accuse the administration of ignoring left-wing violence and leveraging fears of right-wing terrorism to target political opponents and stifle legitimate debate.
Attorney General Merrick Garland piqued fears of a burgeoning police state last year when he issued a memorandum directing federal law enforcement officials to discuss strategies “for addressing threats against” local school boards and administrators and to “open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment and response.”
The memo was a response to a National School Boards Association letter to President Biden requesting “federal assistance to stop threats” from parents protesting elected and appointed public school officials.
“This bill is dangerous because we’ve already seen the weaponization of the government,” Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee said Wednesday.
“We saw it in the IRS a few years ago. We’ve seen it in the FBI, as I just pointed out, most recently, the DOJ working with the FBI to go after parents. This bill formalizes what we’ve already seen. That’s why it’s so dangerous.”
“What happened in Buffalo, we know is wrong as wrong can be,” he said. “But this legislation wouldn’t prevent the terrible crime that took place there.”
Among voters, however, the measure receives fairly broad support from both parties. According to a morning consult poll published Monday, 83% of Democratic and 73% of Republican voters support the monitoring of domestic terrorism by the DOJ, DHS and FBI.
“Democrats’ goal is to pass this bill just as it is with all bills we bring to the Senate floor,” Mr. Schumer said Tuesday. “But if Republicans keep going down their extremist, obstructionist path, then this vote will still allow the American people to hold their elected representatives accountable.”
The Senate is expected to vote on the measure Thursday.
• Joseph Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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