'A plague upon this nation': Lawmakers react to Texas mass shooting that killed 21

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A day after another deadly mass shooting in the United States and with no gun control legislation in sight, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that “there is a plague upon this nation.” But he admitted action was unlikely.

In a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, Schumer quoted a poem Amanda Gorman posted to Twitter hours after the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were killed by an 18-year-old gunman.

“The truth is, one nation under guns,” Schumer said, quoting Gorman, the poet laureate who spoke at President Biden’s inauguration. “One nation under guns. That is simply heartbreaking — heartbreaking to think that this is the legacy that older generations are leaving behind for young Americans, one nation under guns.”

People react after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday.
People react after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

"It doesn't have to be that way,” he continued. “Parents don't need to drop their kids off at school and wonder if their kid will be next."

Schumer said he is willing to work with Republicans, but acknowledged that no gun bill is imminent and that the chamber would likely depart Thursday for its Memorial Day recess as scheduled.

“Americans can cast their vote in November,” he said, despite the fact that Democrats already control both chambers of Congress and the White House. Because of current Senate rules, most legislation cannot pass without 60 votes due to the legislative filibuster, which was historically used to block civil rights legislation.

While Democratic senators could unanimously vote to change the rules and allow legislation to pass with 50 votes on issues like guns, voting rights and women’s reproductive health, they are blocked by a few more moderate members of their caucus who want to keep the 60-vote requirement in place. The most prominent of those filibuster supporters is Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

A child looks on through a window from inside a reunification center where students had been transported after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday.
A child looks through a window from inside a reunification center where students were transported after the shooting on Tuesday. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

“It makes no sense why we can’t do common-sense things to try to prevent some of this from happening,” Manchin said Tuesday after the shooting. “It’s just unbelievable how we got here as a society.”

However, he rejected the idea of removing the filibuster in order to get it done. “You would think there’d be enough common sense,” Manchin said. “The filibuster is the only thing that prevents us from total insanity.”

Manchin’s efforts at “common sense” gun legislation have been thwarted by the filibuster for nearly a decade. In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, he worked with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., on legislation that would have expanded background checks. Although it received 54 yes votes in April 2013, it failed to advance because of the filibuster.

“Everyone wants to go, ‘Filibuster, filibuster, filibuster, get rid of that,’” Manchin added Wednesday morning. “That’s the easy way out ... [if the filibuster is eliminated]. What makes you think they won’t reverse it immediately if they don’t like what we do?”

First responders gather outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, following a mass shooting on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
First responders gather outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde following the shooting. (Dario Lopez-Mills/AP)

Last year, Manchin tried to get 10 Republican votes for both instituting a commission to investigate the Capitol riot of Jan. 6 and for a voting rights bill.

"I think we'll come together,” he said in May 2021 of the vote to advance the commission. “You have to have faith there's 10 good people.”

Six Republicans voted in favor, killing the Senate investigation of the Capitol insurrection. Manchin’s voting rights proposal also made no progress with Republicans.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. — whose impassioned plea for gun control on the Senate floor in the wake of Tuesday's shooting went viral — said Wednesday that he believes a compromise is possible.

“I refuse to believe this is inevitable,” Murphy said on CNN. “We are the only country in the world in which this happens, in which children are sitting in school right now worrying for their lives. That only happens to our kids in the United States.”

But he too acknowledged that the issue is “ultimately up to voters.”

“Voters get to decide this. Ask your candidates this fall: 'Are you supportive of universal background checks? Do you think that 18-year-olds should have access to military-style assault weapons?' And if they say yes, if they support the current law and don't support reform, then don't send them back to Congress."

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., speaks on the Senate floor following Tuesday's mass shooting in Texas.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., speaks on the Senate floor following Tuesday's shooting. (C-SPAN/Yahoo News)

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, reacted to the shooting in his home state by writing, ​“Heidi & I are fervently lifting up in prayer the children and families in the horrific shooting in Uvalde. We are in close contact with local officials, but the precise details are still unfolding. Thank you to heroic law enforcement & first responders for acting so swiftly.”

During his 2018 reelection campaign, Cruz was the leading recipient of gun rights funding in Congress, bringing in more than $300,000, according to OpenSecrets.org.

“Aren’t you slated to headline a speaking gig for the NRA in three days — in Houston, no less?” asked Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., in a tweet. “You can do more than pray. Faith without works is dead.”

Cruz, as well as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and former President Donald Trump, is set to speak at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting this weekend. Guns will not be allowed in the venue during Trump’s speech.

Other representatives were even more direct toward Cruz, who told reporters, “Inevitably when there's a murderer of this kind, you see politicians try to politicize it, you see Democrats and a lot of folks in the media whose immediate solution is to try to restrict the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.”

“F*** you @tedcruz you care about a fetus but you will let our children get slaughtered,” wrote Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., an Iraq War veteran, who then referred to Cruz’s Mexican vacation last year when much of Texas was without power. “Just get your ass to Cancun. You are useless.”

To ensure no confusion about his position, 17 minutes after that message Gallego added, “Just to be clear f*** you @tedcruz you f***ing baby killer.”