GMO Legislation Passes Despite Day of Opposition

A Genetically Modified Organism(GMO) labeling amendment passed tonight by a 63-30 vote. The measure is viewed as a serious compromise, and faced sustained opposition on the floor today.

In response to states like Vermont beginning to label food made with GMO ingredients, the Senate proposed federal guidelines.

Critics like Jeff Merkley, D-OR, though, who championed an alternate version of the law that did come up for a vote, are calling the act the Deny Americans the Right to Know, or DARK, Act.

Rather than requiring a label with a symbol or text identifying a product as containing GMO ingredients, the passed measure opts for a Quick Response(QR) code on packaging instead. These codes can be read by a smartphone or a reader installed in a store.

The assistant minority leader Dick Durbin, D-IL, speaking in opposition to this method, called it the “’secret decoder ring’ approach.”

“I really believe that it’s an attempt to obfuscate the subject,” Mr. Durbin went on, calling it impractical to expect people to scan every item while shopping to find out what is in them.

Senator Bernard Sanders, I-VT, had harsh words for the bill, arguing that it is not a viable alternative to the information provided by labeling that the measure in in his state mandates.

“This is not an effort to provide information,” he said, “this is an effort to deny information to customers.”

He further criticized it for lacking in enforcement mechanisms.

“This bill provides no federal penalties for violating [it]” Mr. Sanders said.

Mr. Merkley’s attempt to provide discussion and a vote on amendments by Senators Leahy, D-VT, Sasse, R-NE, Paul, R-KY, and Murkowski, R-K, including one of his own were blocked, forcing a late night vote that passed the bill.

by Marlon J. Ettinger

Floor Dominated by 14 Hour Murphy Filibuster

Senator Daniel Murphy, D-CT, starting at 11:20 AM yesterday, held the Senate floor in an attempt to force action on gun control legislation. Joining him on the floor for over 14 hours was his senior colleague from Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal(D), and the Junior Senator from New Jersey, Cory Booker(D).

He put two demands to the Republican-controlled chamber.

The first is for a vote on an amendment that was filed yesterday by Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, to the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill, which before the beginning of the filibuster was the scheduled business in the upper chamber.

The amendment would give the Attorney General the discretion to deny the transfer of a firearm to individuals under investigation for terrorism currently, or within the last 5 years.

Sen. Murphy’s other demand is to expand background checks to cover all places of sale.

The Junior Senator from Connecticut repeatedly called these measures “common sense,” and demanded the votes from the Republican side for the passage of his desired legislation.

Barring that he called for a vote on the measures: “Let the American people see where we stand.”

Murphy yielded only to questions, mostly from Democrats.  Senator Angus King, Jr. the Independent Senator from Maine also joined the proceedings.  The questions were largely statements formed as questions for the sake of process.  The statements were almost unanimously supportive of Sen. Murphy’s cause, and gave him time to rest from speaking, though not standing. By the time the clock edged towards, then past, midnight he continued standing, moving from leg to leg, side to side from exhaustion.

Sen. King told Sen. Murphy “since you have been on the floor today ten people have been murdered with guns.”

Sen. Murphy stayed on the floor for over four hours after that.

Senator Dick Durbin, D-IL, read from a statement by the American Medical Association calling gun violence a public health crisis. Sen. Durbin also called for an end to the twenty year ban on legislation funding research into gun violence.

Another number that was repeated over the hours as day turned to night then day again was one Senator Feinstein highlighted in a press release yesterday, taken from a study by the Government Accountability Office.

“Over the past decade, 91 percent of individuals who are known or suspected terrorists passed background checks, showing this is a pervasive problem,” said Sen. Feinstein in the release.

That number works out to those under terrorist investigation passing a background check on 2,265 occasions, out of 2,477 checks from February 2004 to December 2015.

Sen. Murphy reported that his office has received 10,000 calls in support of his effort, and said that the fact that his filibuster had trended on Facebook made him proud.

However, he emphasized the need for action, rejecting “the normal cycle of thoughts and prayers being sent out and then a dissipation into nothingness.”

Senator Tammy Baldwin, D-WI, stood next to a poster board with pictures of the victims and read a list of mass shootings in the United States.

Early in the morning hour, Senator Jeff Merkley, D-OR, called on his “colleagues in the majority to join us in this conversation.”

Sen. Murphy gave his closing statement just after two in the morning on June 16th, telling the story of Dylan Hockley, one of the victims in the Sandy Hook Massacre. Hockley, who was autistic, was found dead in the arms of his teacher aide Anne Marie Murphy (no relation to Sen. Murphy), who also died in the 2012 shooting.

Addressing the Senate before yielding the floor at 2:11 AM, Sen. Murphy asked “if Anne Marie Murphy could do that, then what can you do to make sure Orlando, or Sandy Hook, never happens again?”

by Marlon J. Ettinger

Senate Republicans, Democrats, Tout Responses to Orlando Attack

The action on the Senate floor today was dominated by responses from Senators to the attack in Orlando on Sunday that left 49 people dead and at least 53 wounded. Proposed solutions split down predictable party lines though, and there seemed to be little consensus between the two parties on the motivations for the attacks.

Senate Democrats largely proposed expanding gun control, with Harry Reid, D-NV, taking the lead in his opening remarks by proposing limits on clip sizes and lamenting the failure of earlier gun control efforts spearheaded by the Democratic Senator from California, Dianne Feinstein.

The Senior Senator from Florida, Bill Nelson(D), praised the work of Law Enforcement agencies in responding to the attacks.

“Cooperation [has been] almost seamless between local, state, and federal law enforcement.”

He commended the work of the FBI, saying they’ve “[done] a good job.”

Mr. Nelson said that he had received a phone call from Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, whose state faced similar tragedy in 2012 when a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, in a school shooting in Newtown.

Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts proposed a ban on the AR-15 rifle, which was used in Sunday’s attack, and called the NRA “Not Relevant Anymore” in American politics. He carried on Senator Reid’s theme of closing so-called terror loopholes too, by calling for preventing those on the terror watchlist from buying guns.

“We need to give the protections to the American people so they know those on terror watchlists cannot buy a gun in the US.”

Mr. Markey went on to hold up a bill he had introduced that would provide funding to the CDC to do research on gun violence, a move that has been blocked by Senate Republicans in the past. The bill would fund research at $10 Million a year over the next six years.

His four gun control objectives reflected well what most of his Democratic colleagues were focusing on today. Those objectives are:

  • Closing the gun show loophole

  • Closing the loophole allowing domestic abusers to purchase firearms

  • Closing the loophole which allows for straw purchases

  • Repealing a law the grants gun manufacturers immunity from liability litigation

Senator Tom Carper of Delaware emphasized themes that many on the Republican side did, in speaking on the floor about the need to “degrade and destroy ISIS,” and “demonstrate that ISIS is a losing team.”

He made clear that he was committed to not turning his back on immigration, saying “we accept the people who come to our shores.”

At the same time, he championed more active shooter training for the Department of Homeland Security and more funding for fusion centers across the country.

“[We] need to strengthen our defenses at home” Mr. Carper finished, as he expressed doubt over the effectiveness of greater gun control.

The Republican senators who spoke all condemned Islamic terrorism and paid their respects to the dead, but also talked about other issues that are a part of their legislative agenda.

Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, offered his condolences to the victims of the attack. Senator Steve Daine of Montana offered his condolences too, calling the events of Sunday “an act of terror on American soil,” and warning of the danger the country faces.

“This threat of ISIS is continuing to grow each and every day.”

The Republican Senator from Georgia, Johnny Isakson, offered his condolences along with the affirmation that “wherever radical Islamic terrorism is, I want to root it out and I want to destroy it.”

Richard Durbin, D-IL, called the attack “a sobering reminder that [the LGBT] community remains a target of vicious hatred.”

“Our laws currently allow dangerous people to buy guns. That has to change,” Mr. Durbin went on to say.

He offered his condolences as well, but forcefully stated that “thoughts and prayers are important, but not sufficient.”

He finished by condemning Republican nominee Donald Trump by quoting General Michael Hayden, who was CIA director under the administration of George W. Bush.

Hayden characterized Mr. Trump’s response to the attack, who has claimed that the United States is “importing” Islamic terrorism and that a halt on Muslim immigration is the proper response, as “prejudiced, simplistic, [and] frankly inaccurate.”

Mr. Durbin called for unity.

“We must not allow the actions of a hateful few to divide us.”

Finally, Robert Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, introduced the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would prohibit those convicted of hate crime misdemeanor offenses from owning guns. He called for a ban on what he characterized as military style assault weapons, a reduction in clip size, the closing of the terror loophole, and called the attack “first an act of terror, and also an act of hate.”

Senator Casey finished with a call to appropriate money for law enforcement if they indicate needing it, and taking the fight to the terrorists by focusing on violent extremism at all levels of enforcement.

He said that “common sense” gun measures are not enough alone.

by Marlon J. Ettinger