Voices: From Josh Hawley to Mitt Romney, Republican Senators are drawing their battle lines on the bipartisan gun bill

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Mitt Romney on Capitol Hill (Getty Images)
Mitt Romney on Capitol Hill (Getty Images)

Shortly before the bipartisan group of Senators negotiating a bill to combat gun violence released the text of their legislation, I caught up with a few of them.

Most of the negotiators seemed happy with the place they arrived on Tuesday evening. When I asked Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who was part of the group of 20 (and whose word is as good as edict in Washington), whether he thought a vote could happen by the end of the week, he said, “I’m very, very optimistic.”

When I asked Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, one of the other negotiators of the bill, how likely a vote this week could be, he replied: “I would say very.”

Senator Mitt Romney of Utah said the ten Republicans negotiating the bill — of which he was one — had a call with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday to examine the wording of it. “And I think all that spoke were satisfied,” he told reporters. Romney also said he thought the legislation would make a substantial difference, adding, “Fundamentally, this is about trying to protect human life, and finding a measure that’s consistent with the Constitution, which at the same time will keep innocent children from being slaughtered.”

That doesn’t mean there aren’t obstacles to the bill. Case in point: Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat who hails from rural Montana and previously opposed a ban on semi-automatic weapons, took a “wait-and-see” approach.

“I have not seen it,” he told me, when asked about the bill. “Once I see it, I’ll be able to tell you for sure.”

(For what it’s worth, the potty-mouthed Tester and the wealthy Romney have formed a political odd couple of sorts, having worked together on the bipartisan infrastructure bill previously).

Meanwhile, a few hours later, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri tweeted his criticism of the bill. “Here we are voting to move on a bill negotiated entirely behind closed doors, released only an hour ago, that no one has had time to fully read, that ignores the national crime wave and chips away instead at the fundamental rights of law-abiding citizens” he wrote. “NO.”

Hawley’s words were also a not-so-subtle rebuke to his fellow Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, who is part of the negotiating group. But Blunt, a former whip in House GOP leadership and a current member of Senate GOP leadership who is retiring this year, is very much a “governing” Republican – a breed that faces extinction in his party – while Hawley undoubtedly has his eyes on the national stage.

But Romney also seemed to prepare for a strike from his more conservative colleagues. “I know there are some who will say ‘gosh, we haven’t got the bill. We’ll want to read it’. It’s like, well, you know, you could be part of the drafting. Or if people are concerned about a provision, you could have been part of the negotiations. The door’s open. Anyone who wants to be part of the discussion can join in,” he said. (This, of course, isn’t the first time Romney and Hawley have clashed. During the Capitol riot, the usually mild-mannered Romney yelled at Hawley, “You have caused this!”)

When asked if he was worried about whether Republicans would pull out of the deal, Manchin said, “You’d need to talk with them about that” and added that Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the lead negotiator on the GOP side, “has done a good job working it. See what happens.”

But Cornyn has faced heat back home since becoming the GOP’s point person on guns: this last weekend, attendees at the Texas Republican Party’s convention booed him.

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