U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) slammed the process after the Senate held a vote Tuesday to advance a bipartisan gun control bill, giving lawmakers less than an hour to read the bill before the vote, but not before it was leaked to the media.
"This is the Senate operating at its worst," Lee told BlazeTV host Glenn Beck on the radio Wednesday morning, griping that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has also prevented lawmakers from offering amendments to improve the bill.
Senators voted 64 to 34 Tuesday in favor of a motion to proceed for an 80-page bill called the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. The bill is the result of weeks-long negotiations between Republicans and Democrats on gun control measures deemed a priority after the mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas.
The bill would expand background checks for gun purchasers under 21 to include juvenile records and mental health records; create financial incentives for states to adopt so-called red-flag laws to confiscate firearms from people believed to be a danger to themselves or others; and fund mental health programs.
Fourteen Republican senators voted with every Democrat to proceed with the bill, which could now pass as early as next week. They were Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).
“I want to make sure we actually do something useful, something that is capable of becoming a law, something that will have the potential to save lives,” John Cornyn, the lead Republican negotiator, said on the Senate floor Tuesday, according to The Hill.
“I’m happy to report as a result of the hard work of a number of senators in this chamber that we’ve made some serious progress,” he said.
But Lee, who did not vote for the motion to proceed, criticized the fact that Republicans who did not take part in the negotiations were asked to take a blind vote without reading the bill.
"There were a group of senators, ten Republicans and ten Democrats, who got together and wrote this behind closed doors. I hope they read it. But I don't think anyone else had the chance to. In fact, by yesterday afternoon, mid-afternoon, a number of news media outlets were reporting that they had the bill text. Senators still didn't," Lee said.
"We received the bill text, just moments before we were expected to vote on it. It ended up getting an overwhelming vote, because basically all of Democrats and ten or 15 Republicans voted for it. This is stunning to me. This is not how the Senate is supposed to operate," he added.
The Utah Republican went on to chide Senate Democrats for blocking senators from offering amendments to the bill.
"This bill text is now sacred. It's now protected. It's like it's on — on stone tablets. And you can't change it from here on out. And this is how they set it up, so that they can pass it, as is, without any amendment. This is the Senate operating at its worst," Lee complained.
"It operates at its best when people bring forward legislation. They propose something, and the senators hold hearings on it. They discuss the language. They debate. Then they also debate amendments. They say, 'okay.' This one over here might be okay if you made those changes. That's what the American people deserve. They deserve better from the world's better deliberative body. They didn't have that here."
The next steps for the gun control package will be a vote to end debate and move toward a final up-or-down vote on the bill, Lee said. If any lawmaker attempts to filibuster, which is all but certain, the bill will need 60 votes to advance.
"If you can't get to 60 votes, voting to bring debate to a close — cloture tomorrow, then this thing can't pass," Lee said. "So it's not entirely baked yet. It's just mostly baked. If we can convince enough senators to say, 'Hey, this needs more time. This needs more deliberation. This needs more debate.' Then perhaps we can have a real process here. Which is what we really want."