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The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

What's missing from the House gun package

The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

Good morning, Early Birds. What’s black and blue, and white all over? This newsletter! Thanks for waking up with us. Tips: earlytips@washpost.com

In today’s edition … Poll Watch: What the nation thinks about inflation … President Biden says he didn't become aware of the baby formula shortage until about two months after industry leaders knew they faced a major crisis … California’s reparations task force documents 170 years of systemic discrimination by the state and demands “comprehensive reparations” for those harmed. … but first …

On the Hill

What's missing from the House gun package

As the House Judiciary Committee marks up a package of gun-related bills today, one thing not included is an assault weapons ban. 

The reason: It doesn't have the votes.

More than 200 House Democrats have co-sponsored an assault weapons ban bill introduced by Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.). But that's not enough to pass the House and leadership has yet to secure the needed remaining votes, according to people familiar with the deliberations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the state of play.

“We are looking at many legislative options to make our country safe and assessing where we have the votes,” a senior leadership aide told The Early.

The decision to proceed with Thursday's markup without the assault weapons ban was made before a gunman killed at least four people at a medical building in Tulsa on Wednesday afternoon, according to police. And as details of that incident come to light, its unclear whether the latest mass shooting will impact the deliberations.

One of the 17 Democratic lawmakers who notably isn't a co-sponsor of assault weapons ban is Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), who heads the House Gun Violence Task Force. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi often deputizes Thompson to take the lead on gun-related votes.

Asked why Thompson hasn't signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill, a person familiar with his position told The Early that “if it came up for a vote he would vote for it.”

President Bill Clinton signed an assault weapons ban into law in 1994, but Congress didn't renew it when it expired in 2004. Democrats tried to pass a new assault weapons ban after the Sandy Hook, Conn., school shooting in 2012, but it won only 40 votes in the Senate.

How many Democrats back the bill?

The current House bill has the backing of 208 House Democrats, including three nonvoting delegates. Along with Thompson, the 16 Democrats who haven't signed on include lawmakers who've voted with Republicans on past gun bills as well as several members facing competitive reelection races.

One Democrat who isn't a co-sponsor is one of the most progressive members of Congress: Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.). In a statement to The Early, Bush said she would support the bill if it is brought up for a vote and emphasized she supports a ban on assault weapons. But she also expressed concern that the legislation would expand the criminal code, which she argued often unfairly affects minority communities most.

“I am not a co-sponsor because I believe we need to consider the impact that expanding the criminal code, which this bill does, has on people’s lives,” she said. “As it stands, arrests, charges, and criminal prosecutions disproportionately harm Black, brown, and Indigenous communities — and Missouri has not been exempt from that.”

Cicilline's bill defines assault weapons as semiautomatic assault weapons or “large capacity ammunition feeding devices.”

Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Chris Jacobs (R-N.Y.) have indicated support for an assault weapons ban following the deadly shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Tex., but it's unlikely that enough Republicans would vote for such a bill to offset Democratic defections. 

Even if the House managed to pass an assault weapons ban, though, it would be almost certain to fail in the Senate. The Senate companion to Cicilline's bill, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), has only 37 co-sponsors and Republicans would be sure to filibuster the proposal.

Instead, the Judiciary Committee is taking up bills that are a bit easier to gain consensus. They include raising the purchase age of an assault weapon from 18 to 21, attempt to limit gun trafficking, crack down on ghost guns and encourage sage gun storage practices. 

Put pressure on the Senate

None of the House bills will get signed into law but they are meant to put pressure on the Senate who can't even pass background checks” a senior Democratic aide told The Early. 

As for the Senate negotiations, a bipartisan group of lawmakers met virtually Wednesday afternoon. The group included Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joe Manchin III (D-W. V.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who has been deputized by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to negotiate with Democrats, did not join the group. He is meeting and working directly with Murphy, a Cornyn spokesman said. 

This was a critical meeting to help gauge whether the group can eventually gain consensus on legislation that revolves around mental health, red flag laws and background checks. Democrats want to get something done but they want it to be meaningful enough to have some impact. 

Murphy tweeted that there is “growing momentum to get something done and we agreed on a plan to keep working.” Collins said in a statement the group is making “rapid progress toward a common sense package.”

Poll Watch

Inflation concerns level off, but remain at 39-year high

From Post Polling Director Scott Clement: Since 1981, Gallup has asked random samples of Americans “What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?” an open-ended question that is well-suited to put Americans’ inflation concerns into context. Gallup released its May results on Tuesday, showing 18 percent of Americans cited the high cost of living or inflation as the country’s top problem, leveling off from 17 percent in April but up sharply from 8 percent in January and 2 percent one year ago.

Americans don’t usually complain much about inflation, with an average of 1 percent naming it as the country’s top problem between 1990 in 2021. The early 1980s are an exception, with a record high 52 percent naming it as the country’s top problem in October 1981, coincidentally the first poll in Gallup’s trendline. Concern fell sharply in the following months and years and has been in single digits ever since 1985.

Inflation concerns have dragged down Americans’ assessments of the economy overall, and Republicans are well-positioned to take advantage of those concerns in this fall’s midterm campaigns. A late-April Washington Post-ABC News poll found 50 percent of Americans saying they trust the Republican Party more to handle inflation while 31 percent preferred Democrats, a 19-point advantage and their strongest issue in the survey.

On K Street

Former Biden White House aide joins public affairs firm

Cristóbal Alex, who stepped down last month as White House deputy cabinet secretary, is joining the public affairs firm Tusk Strategies as a managing director. He'll open a Washington office for the firm along with Kristina Howard, a Tusk executive vice president.

Alex was also a senior adviser on President Biden's 2020 campaign and worked on his transition team.

Tusk Strategies was founded by Bradley Tusk, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg. The firm has advised corporate clients such as AT&T and Uber as well as Andrew Yang's unsuccessful New York mayoral campaign.

Alex will also work for Tusk's early-stage start-up investment arm as well as Tusk Philanthropies, according to the firm.

At the White House

‘They did, but I didn’t’: President Biden said Wednesday that he did not become aware of the baby formula shortage until about two months after industry leaders knew they faced a major crisis, raising new questions about the administration’s monitoring and handling of the problem,” our colleague Tyler Pager reports.

  • “Biden’s comments came after he met with executives of companies that manufacture infant formula, who told the president they knew the shortage would be severe in February after the closure of an Abbott plant in Michigan. Biden suggested he was not informed until April.”
  • “I don’t think anyone anticipated the impact of the shutdown of one facility,” Biden said after the meeting, adding, “Once we learned the extent of it and how broad it was, it kicked everything into gear.”
  • “But when reporters noted that the executives had said they immediately recognized the scope of the problem,” Biden said, “They did, but I didn’t.”

Why it matters: “The delay, unexplained by Biden or White House aides, undercut the administration’s efforts to demonstrate that he has been on top of a problem that has compounded stress and economic difficulties for families with young children at a time when Americans are already struggling with inflation,” AP News’ Zeke Miller reports.

  • Meanwhile, CNN’s Nikki Carvajal, Kaitlan Collins and MJ Lee note that Biden’s remarks were an admission of fault. “Biden conceded Wednesday he didn’t understand how big of an effect the shutdown of an Abbott baby formula plant in Michigan and subsequent recalls would have on the baby formula supply until April.”

In the agencies

A historic precedent: “California’s first-in-the-nation task force on reparations for Black Americans said it has documented 170 years of systemic discrimination by the state and demanded ‘comprehensive reparations’ for those harmed by that history of government-sanctioned oppression,” our colleague Emmanuel Felton reports.

  • “In a 500-page report released Wednesday, [California’s Reparations Task Force] argues that the present-day wealth gap between Black and White Americans in California and the rest of the country is the direct result of slavery, Jim Crow laws, redlining and other government policies that locked Black Americans into failing schools and over-policed communities.”
  • The task force “offered a sweeping list of preliminary recommendations that include ending voter approval for publicly funded ‘low-rent housing,’ providing free college tuition and creating a new state agency to implement dozens of other forms of reparation for African Americans,” the Los Angeles Times’ Taryn Luna reports.
  • Who’s next? Despite having enough support to pass the House, according to supporters, a bill that would create a similar commission to study reparations for Black Americans has yet to be put to the floor. “The commission, which would receive $12 million in funding, would have 13 members,” Felton reported earlier this year. “The president and House speaker would each appoint three members, and the Senate president pro tempore would appoint a single member. The other six seats would be filled with representatives from civil rights organizations that have championed the cause of reparations.”

The Media

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