Congressional Votes for the Week Ending March 1

WASHINGTON – Bills to expand the list of people who must request federal background checks on individuals before selling guns to them split Alabama’s congressional delegation along the usual party lines last week.

Democrat Rep. Terri Sewell of Birmingham voted for that bill while the Republicans voted against it. Alabama’s representatives also split along party lines on bills to require vendors to report undocumented immigrants who try to buy guns, to give extra time for background checks in certain cases and to exempt domestic violence victims from having to wait longer to get a gun.

Sewell also voted for a bill to nullify President Trumps attempt to finance a wall along the southern border by declaring a national emergency, while Republicans opposed it.

In the Senate, both of Alabama’s senators voted for a motion to end a Democratic filibuster over a bill to require doctors to care for babies born alive after an abortion attempt, an indication they would support that bill. And the senators split on a decision to confirm Andrew Wheeler as head of the EPA.

Here’s how area members of Congress voted during the legislative week ending March 1.


Expansion of Gun Background Checks

Voting 240 for and 190 against, the House on Feb. 27 passed a bill (HR 8) that would expand federal background checks of prospective gun buyers by extending the requirement to transactions on the internet and between private parties at venues including gun shows and parking lots. Now, only licensed dealers must run buyers’ personal information through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The NICS was established in 1993 by the Brady bill, which outlaws the sale of firearms to convicted felons, drug addicts, abusive partners, fugitives, persons with serious mental illness and undocumented immigrants. This bill would exempt sales between family members and would waive background checks for transfers for hunting and when a purchaser faces imminent threat of great bodily harm.

Kathy Castor, D-Florida, said the expansion is needed because “each year, 120,000 Americans are injured by a firearm, 35,000 Americans die. … Mass shootings are on the rise. Military-style assault weapons are deadlier than ever. People are being gunned down in churches, schools, movie theaters, nightclubs and synagogues.”

Debbie Lesko, R-Arizona, said: “The fact is, criminals don’t get their guns legally and will not go through a background check to get their guns even if this bill were signed into law. … (The bill) will also turn everyday law-abiding citizens into criminals if it becomes law.”

A yes vote was to send the bill to the Senate.


Voting yes: Terri Sewell, D-7 

Voting no:  Bradley Byrne, R-1, Martha Roby, R-2, Mike Rogers, R-3, Robert Aderholt, R-4, Mo Brooks, R-5, Gary Palmer, R-6

 Attempted Gun Purchases by Undocumented Immigrants

Voting 220 for and 209 against, the House on Feb. 27 adopted a Republican motion to HR 8 (above) under which undocumented immigrants must be reported to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when the NICS detects they are attempting to buy a firearm.

Doug Collins, R-Georgia, asked: “Now, which members in this body are opposed to notifying law enforcement when a person prohibited from purchasing a firearm attempts to do so? Are we against that? No.”

Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, called the motion “just a red herring to try to mix up the immigration issue with the gun violence issue, and they really have nothing to do with each other.”

A yes vote was to add the GOP-sponsored provision to the bill.


Voting yes: Byrne, Roby, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks, Palmer 

Voting no: Sewell

More Time for Background Checks

Voting 228 for and 198 against, the House on Feb. 28 passed a bill (HR 1112) that would increase from three business days to 20 business days the maximum time for deferring firearms sales when FBI background checks on buyers have not yet been completed. The bill would apply to the estimated 10 percent of prospective sales not promptly cleared or denied by the NICS. If the check remains open after 10 business days, purchasers could file a petition asserting their eligibility to acquire a firearm. If the matter remains unresolved for another 10 business days – bringing the total deferral to 20 business days – the sale would automatically take effect.

Lucy McBath, D-Georgia, said the bill would ensure that “background checks are thorough, even if a few of them take a few more days to process. Those few extra days will save lives.”

Ben Cline, R-Virginia, said the bill “puts incredible roadblocks in the way of law-abiding citizens seeking to exercise their Second Amendment rights … guaranteed to them in the Constitution.”

A yes vote was to send the bill to the Senate.


Voting yes: Sewell

Voting no: Byrne, Roby, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks, Palmer

Exemption for Domestic Violence Victims

Voting 194 for and 232 against, the House on Feb. 28 defeated a Republican motion that would exempt victims of domestic violence from the delays that HR 1112 would impose on unfinished background checks. The measure would allow these individuals to acquire a firearm after three business days even when the FBI has not yet approved or denied the prospective sale.

Debbie Lesko, R-Arizona, asked: “Do we really want to tell victims of domestic violence they have to wait up to 20 business days … before they are allowed to adequately defend themselves?”

Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, said: “When a background check cannot be completed within a three-day period, it is important that the FBI work to resolve the unanswered questions presented, because these are the very cases that present the most danger.”

A yes vote was to adopt the motion.


Voting yes: Byrne, Roby, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks, Palmer

Voting no: Sewell

Nullifying Emergency Call on Border

Voting 245 for and 182 against, the House on Feb. 26 approved a measure (HJ Res 46) that would nullify a national emergency President Trump declared in an effort to secure border-wall funding. Trump invoked the emergency after Congress denied his request for at least $5.7 billion in fiscal 2019 for wall construction on the U.S.-Mexico border. He asserted authority under the 1976 National Emergencies Act to reallocate military appropriations to the project, while critics said there is no border emergency.

Hank Johnson, D-Georgia, said, “President Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency at the southern border to siphon funds for his border wall is an unconstitutional, grotesque abuse of power.”

Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, said a border emergency exists “because of the high rate of unchecked, unregulated illegal immigration … directly contributing to the flow of drugs, human trafficking and gang members into this country.”

A yes vote was to send the measure to the Senate for a vote to occur within 18 days.


Voting yes: Sewell

Voting no:  Byrne, Roby, Rogers, Aderholt, Brooks, Palmer 


Infants Born in Failed Abortions

Voting 53 for and 44 against, the Senate on Feb. 25 failed to reach 60 votes needed to end a Democratic-led filibuster against a bill (S 311) that would prescribe rules of care for infants who survive failed late-term abortions. Health care providers, including doctors, could face up to five years in prison if they failed to immediately ensure the hospitalization of an infant showing signs of life after an abortion attempt. The infant would have to receive the same level of care provided to “any other child born alive at the same gestational age.” The bill also would require medical practitioners or employees of hospitals, clinics or physician’s offices to report to law enforcement agencies any violation they witnessed.

Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said: “This bill does not address abortion. It does not address women’s health care issues. What this bill does is address the health care of a baby who is born alive after a botched abortion. We are not talking about abortion, folks. We are talking about the life of a child who is born.”

Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said: “When you strip away the ultraconservative rhetoric, you are left with a very simple argument from supporters of this legislation – that the moral judgment of rightwing politicians in Washington, D.C., should supersede a medical professional’s judgment and a woman’s decision.”

A yes vote was to advance the bill.


Voting yes: Richard Shelby, R, Doug Jones, D 

Voting no:  None

Andrew Wheeler, EPA Administrator

Voting 52 for and 47 against, the Senate on Feb. 28 confirmed Andrew R. Wheeler as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Wheeler had served as acting administrator after replacing EPA head Scott Pruitt last July. He joined the EPA three months earlier from a law firm that represents Murray Energy Corp., the country’s largest owner of underground coal mines. He worked previously at the EPA under President George H.W. Bush and was a staff aide to Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma.

Calling Wheeler “the slightly cleaned-up version of Scott Pruitt,” Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhodes Island, said, “It ought to tell us a lot that the Republicans put up a coal lobbyist to represent the people of America leading the Environmental Protection Agency.”

Inhofe said Wheeler “will be a good steward of the environment without punishing our states, without punishing our farmers and without punishing our job creators just for the sake of it. Those days are behind us.”

A yes vote was to confirm the nominee.


Voting yes: Shelby

Voting no:  Jones


The Senate will vote on judicial nominations in the week of March 4, while the House’s legislative schedule was to be announced.