House approves a bill to fight domestic terror The bill creates offices at DOJ, DHS, and the FBI to track domestic terror threats. GOP lawmakers argue it could allow federal officials to ensnare parents, a charge DOJ rejects.

Days after Buffalo mass shooting, the House approves a bill to fight domestic terror

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1099756134/1099997308" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The House of Representatives has narrowly approved a bill to combat domestic terrorism. The vote happened late last night, just days after the racist mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y. The House easily passed a similar bill just months before the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. But this time, only one House Republican, Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, voted yes. This legislation would tap additional federal resources for preventing domestic terrorism. So why didn't it have the support of more GOP lawmakers? NPR's Deirdre Walsh reports.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: After meeting with victims of the mass shooting in Buffalo, President Biden called white supremacy a poison and labeled the threat.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: What happened here is simple and straightforward - terrorism. Domestic terrorism.

WALSH: Without the votes to pass any new gun control measures in a narrowly divided Congress, House Democrats are trying to step up efforts to combat domestic terrorism. Illinois Democratic Congressman Brad Schneider, the sponsor of the bill, says Congress may not be able to get through restrictions on gun sales, but it needs to tackle what he says isn't a partisan issue.

BRAD SCHNEIDER: This past weekend, we had the shooting in Buffalo. We had a shooting in California. We had a shooting in my district - a gang shooting where a 14-year-old boy was killed. We need to address what is an epidemic of gun violence in the country. We need to tackle the challenge of domestic extremism, and the only way we do that is finding a bipartisan way to push the ball forward together.

WALSH: The bill creates offices within law enforcement agencies to track and respond to threats and coordinate information sharing.

SCHNEIDER: I can't say this law would have stopped what happened in Buffalo. What I can say is that if we give the abilities of FBI, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security to try to intercept these threats before they become a reality, maybe we stop the next Buffalo or the next El Paso, the next Pittsburgh attack.

WALSH: But Republicans who voted for the 2020 bill now argue this one would allow the Justice Department to label parents criticizing their school boards as domestic terrorists. They point to a memo from October that directed federal authorities to address rising threats of violence against teachers, school boards and officials related to pandemic policies on masks and vaccines. The attorney general told Congress parents were not the focus of the memo - the threats were.

Nebraska Republican Don Bacon, one of the GOP sponsors of the current bill, says conservative media attacking the bill has made voters in his district worried.

DON BACON: They feel like it's been politicized, these investigations. So actually, I hear from folks, are they going to investigate me because I'm pro-life? And I'm not saying just one or two. I heard it from dozens of constituents - how could you be on this bill?

WALSH: Even hours before the vote, he was torn.

BACON: And I like Brad Schneider. Brad and I work well together on this stuff. And I think there's a case to be made to vote for it, too. So I'm giving you the other - I'm giving you the side that - the pushback I'm getting. But I got out of the bill for a reason, and I thought there was some goodness to it as well.

WALSH: The top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, made it clear he doesn't trust the Biden administration.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: An administration that uses their Department of Justice to go after parents simply because they want to have a say in their kids' education.

WALSH: The Justice Department declined to comment on the GOP claims, but Schneider pushed back.

SCHNEIDER: It's not a new statute, doesn't create any new statutes or penalties. It gives our federal law enforcement resources to identify the growing threats of domestic terrorism, like what we saw in Buffalo, and hopefully prevent these types of events in the future.

WALSH: Bacon joined most GOP members voting no. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the Senate will hold a procedural vote on the bill next week, but continued GOP opposition could derail it.

Deirdre Walsh, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLORIAN HOEFNER'S "THE LONG RUN")

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.