The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After Texas shooting, Republicans face online anger over NRA money

An officer walks outside of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tex., on Tuesday. (Allison Dinner/AFP/Getty Images)

In the hours after at least 19 children and two teachers were killed at an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex., in the deadliest mass shooting at an American school in nearly a decade, Republicans in Congress joined the world in mourning the latest gun massacre.

But as some offered their thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims, critics have been quick to point out the millions of dollars that GOP lawmakers have taken from the National Rifle Association in contributions over the years.

Nineteen current or recent Republican senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio) and Joni Ernst (Iowa), have taken at least $1 million each in campaign contributions from the NRA over their careers, according to data compiled by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in 2019.

Among the others is Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who expressed how “grief overwhelms the soul” in an attack like the one in Texas, and acknowledged on Twitter that his offer of prayers and condolences were “grossly inadequate” and that answers were needed. It didn’t take long for critics and liberals to slam Romney — who was the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and who spoke at the NRA’s annual convention that year — for taking more than $13 million in NRA contributions, according to Brady.

“Grief does not overwhelm the soul nearly as much as $13M from the NRA overwhelms your bank account,” wrote Jemele Hill, a contributing writer for the Atlantic. “The answer you seek is the money you continue to take.”

Hours after the mass shooting in Uvalde, President Biden urged Congress to end the “carnage” of gun violence, pleading with lawmakers to “stand up to the gun lobby” and pass “common-sense” gun laws.

“What in God’s name do you need an assault weapon for except to kill someone?” he asked in a Tuesday address to the nation.

21 killed in Texas school shooting; victims from same fourth-grade classroom

Biden, who was tapped by President Barack Obama to be his point person on guns after the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn., noted that he just returned from Asia, where mass shootings do not occur with the same frequency.

“Why are we willing to live with this carnage?” he said. “Why do we keep letting this happen? Where in God’s name is our backbone?”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) moved Tuesday evening to put two House-passed gun-control bills on the chamber’s calendar.

Parents and community members in Uvalde, Tex., scrambled for information about the student victims of the Robb Elementary School mass shooting on May 24. (Video: John Farrell/The Washington Post)

Spokespeople for McConnell, Portman and Ernst did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday. Romney spokesperson Brianna Manzelli told The Washington Post that the online criticism toward the senator was off-base. Federal Election Commission records show that almost all of the $13 million contributed by the NRA in their efforts to oust Obama went toward political advertising during the 2012 presidential campaign. Records also show Romney did not take campaign contributions from the NRA during his 2018 Senate campaign, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

“No one owns Senator Romney’s vote, as evidenced by his record of independence in the Senate,” Manzelli said in a statement.

The mass shooting at the elementary school, and Biden’s plea for lawmakers to push back on the gun lobby, have magnified attention on the NRA, which is holding its annual meeting over Memorial Day weekend in Houston, located a few hundred miles away from Uvalde. The event is the largest gun lobby gathering this year and comes after cancellations due to the coronavirus pandemic. It will feature talks from a group that includes former president Donald Trump, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). Abbott is expected to be in Uvalde on Wednesday before his talk at the NRA convention in Houston.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on May 25 referenced gun violence in Chicago while talking about the shooting that left 21 dead at Robb Elementary School. (Video: Reuters)

Trump to speak at NRA meeting in Texas days after school shooting

The NRA, which boasts more than 5 million members, is fighting a lawsuit by the New York attorney general accusing the group’s executives of misspending millions of dollars.

Many critics went on social media to list how much money the Republican lawmakers have reportedly taken from the NRA, but comedy writer Bess Kalb took it one step further and quote-tweeted all of the responses from GOP senators with how much they have received in campaign contributions from the gun lobby.

After McConnell tweeted how he was “horrified and heartbroken” by the shooting in Uvalde and how the country was praying for those affected, Kalb, the executive producer of Amazon Prime’s “Yearly Departed,” used the Brady data for her one-sentence reply: “$1,267,139 from the NRA.”

Kalb continued to respond to Republicans offering their thoughts and prayers — Ernst, Portman, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) — with the million-dollar figures in NRA contributions they have received.

Others soon followed the online trend. In an interview with Fox News on Tuesday evening, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said that “there are not adequate words to express the horror” of what happened in Texas. He echoed Romney in acknowledging condolences weren’t adequate, while also suggesting that more could be done.

“Obviously, my sincere condolences, but that’s not adequate. This is depressing. Something this horrific, children being slaughtered in their school, it doesn’t get worse than this,” he said. “Again, my sincere condolences to those families.”

Nina Turner, a progressive leader who lost a Democratic primary in Ohio earlier this month, highlighted Johnson’s remark about how “it doesn’t get worse than this” and reminded people that he’s taken more than $1.2 million in campaign contributions from the NRA.

“It does, actually,” she wrote on Wednesday. “The adults with power (you) don’t do anything because the NRA paid you $1,269,486 to do nothing. You sacrificed those children’s lives for $1.2 million.”

After Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Tex.), whose district includes Uvalde, asked for constituents to “pray for our families” and quoted a Bible verse, critics resurfaced a 2021 tweet in which the congressman proudly said he had “voted NO on two gun control measures in the House.”

“Pro-tip: Jesus would want you to use your power as a lawmaker to act to stop gun violence in Uvalde instead of quoting Bible versus while taking money from the NRA,” said Shannon Watts, founder of the gun violence prevention nonprofit Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Others took aim at those GOP lawmakers who expressed their anger at the shooting days before speaking at the NRA convention in Houston. When Cruz tweeted that he and his wife, Heidi, were “fervently lifting up in prayer the children and families in the horrific shooting in Uvalde,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) wondered why the Texas senator — who has accepted at least $176,000 in NRA contributions — was still slated to speak at the convention.

“You can do more than pray,” she tweeted. “Faith without works is dead.”

Adela Suliman and Isaac Arnsdorf contributed to this report.