EXECUTIVE SESSION; Congressional Record Vol. 163, No. 181
(Senate - November 07, 2017)

Text available as:

Formatting necessary for an accurate reading of this text may be shown by tags (e.g., <DELETED> or <BOLD>) or may be missing from this TXT display. For complete and accurate display of this text, see the PDF.

[Pages S7035-S7038]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                           EXECUTIVE SESSION


                           EXECUTIVE CALENDAR

  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Under the previous order, the Senate will 
proceed to executive session to consider the following nomination, 
which the clerk will report.
  The legislative clerk read the nomination of John H. Gibson II, of 
Texas, to be Deputy Chief Management Officer of the Department of 
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Under the previous order, there will now be 60 
minutes of debate, equally divided in the usual form.
  The Senator from Connecticut.

                              Gun Violence

  Mr. MURPHY. Mr. President, we are grieving yet again today another 
horrific mass shooting in a church in Texas--over 25 dead, others still 
clinging to life. We were barely past our stage of grief as more than 
50 people were shot dead and 500 were injured at a country music 
concert in Las Vegas. Of course, every single night in this country, 
parents and brothers and sisters go to bed having lost their loved 
ones, and 90 people die every day from guns in this country.
  I just think it is worth stating that this happens nowhere else other 
than in the United States. This is not inevitable. This is not 
something that we should accept. We are not impotent or helpless to try 
to change the scope of tragedy that is crippling for families that have 
to go through this.
  I want everyone to take a quick look at this pretty simple chart. The 
United States has more guns and more gun deaths than any other 
developed country. It is not close, we are not even in the neighborhood 
of any of our other G-20 competitor nations. While the President told 
us the other day that this is a mental illness problem, one cannot 
explain this outlier status through a story of mental illness because 
none of these other countries have any lower rate of mental illness. 
There are just as many people who are mentally ill in these countries 
as there are in our country.
  We cannot explain it by the attention we pay to mental illness. We 
spend more money on treating mental illness than these countries do. 
This isn't a mental illness problem. We have to do better in treating 
people who have psychological disorders in this country, but the reason 
that we are an outlier nation when it comes to the number of gun deaths 
and the epic scale of our mass tragedies is explained by something 
  Here is a quick story. This graphic shows the States that have 
background check requirements on all gun sales in the private sector, 
and here are the States that have no background check laws beyond those 
that are required in Federal law. It is a fundamentally different story 
when it comes to gun-related homicides. In the States that have 
background check laws, the average rate of homicide is substantially 
lower--substantially lower--than in States that haven't background 
check laws. That is because in this country, with the loosest, most lax 
gun laws in the industrialized world, private citizens are able to get 
their hands on weapons that are designed not for hunting and not for 
shooting for sport but to kill. These tactical assault-style weapons 
are being used over and over in these mass tragedies, and more people 
end up in harm's way.
  Smarter gun laws--just making sure that the right people have guns, 
not the wrong people--lead to less gun deaths. It is time for us to 
admit that this is a uniquely American problem and that it deserves our 
attention rather than our silence, which has been our response every 
single session that I have been a Member of Congress.
  This poster shows but a few of the faces that have been lost to gun 
violence in this country. My small town of Sandy Hook is a broken 
community. It is a beautiful, wonderful community, but it is a broken 
community. The ripples of grief that come with losing that number of 
children--beautiful children--all at one time never really gets 
repaired. That small community in Texas, Sutherland Springs, will 
suffer that same fate. It will be a community that will not ever truly 
repair itself, having lost so many beautiful people at one moment. You 
can't rewind the clock.
  It is increasingly impossible for me to continue to go back to 
Newtown, CT, and tell the people of that community that even after mass 
murder after mass murder in this country, at a scale that occurs in no 
other Nation, our response as a body is to do nothing. It is a level of 
callousness that is frankly unexplainable to the victims of this 
violence, and this macabre club of families that have had to deal with 
the consequences of gun violence is getting bigger and bigger and 
  Why? Because the number of people who die by guns is not going down. 
It is not leveling off. It is exploding. Every year, more people--not 
less people--are killed by guns in this country, and it seems to be the 
only problem in which there is zero interest in this body to solve. 
When a terrorist plows into civilians with a truck in New York City, 
Republicans in this body are talking about policy change within hours, 
but after somebody walks into a school or a church or a shopping mall, 
we are told that there has to be a restraining order on policy debate 
for days. It is ridiculous, and it is offensive to the families who 
have gone through this.
  So, let's just for a moment set aside the issues that I will admit 
are unlikely to come up for a vote in this body between now and the end 
of this session. I think it is unbelievable that universal background 
checks, supported by 90 percent of Americans, can't get a vote here. I 
don't think there is another issue like that in the American public, 
where 90 percent of Americans agree on something and Congress can't 
even conceive of getting it done.
  The only place where background checks is controversial is in the 
Congress. Every single gun owner I talk to

[[Page S7036]]

in my State wants to make sure that criminals and people who are 
seriously mentally ill can't buy guns.
  Similarly, let's admit what is happening here. It is not a 
coincidence that the same kind of weapon is used every single time in 
these shootings. These are copycat shootings in which people see the 
kind of destruction that comes with an AR-15-style weapon, and they use 
it again in order to maximize the lethality.
  Wake up. Wake up to the reality that these weapons are being used to 
murder with speed and power, and the killers are watching what happens 
in Sandy Hook, what happens in Texas, what happens in Orlando, what 
happens in Las Vegas, and they are repeating the process. They are 
replicating the weapon. They shouldn't be in the hands of civilians. 
You can have plenty of fun hunting without an AR-15 or AR-15-style 
weapon. So let's set aside universal background checks and assault 
weapons for a moment. I get the politics of this place. I understand 
those are unlikely to pass.
  Why, then, can't we work on the things that we know we agree on? I 
have listened to dozens of Republicans in the House and the Senate 
claim that they are for making real the prohibition on automatic 
weapons. People shouldn't have fully automatic weapons in this country. 
Nobody should be able to do what that guy did at an upper story window 
in a hotel in Las Vegas, and the law that we all passed is being 
ignored by companies that are selling these aftermarket modifications 
that turn semiautomatic weapons into automatic weapons. The company 
that sold the modification took it off the market, but only for a 
couple of weeks. They are back to selling bump stocks again because we 
have signaled that we are not going to do anything about it.
  It is not enough to just tell the ATF to do it. Why? Because the law 
is vague. The ATF said it was vague in 2010. All we have to do is 
clarify it, but aftermarket modifications that turn semiautomatic 
weapons into automatic weapons shouldn't be legal. It seems we have 
agreement on that because I have listened to many Republicans saying 
they are willing to take that step. Let's take it and stop talking 
about it. Put legislation on the floor that says you cannot have an 
automatic weapon in this country. Let's do it. We agree on it.

  I didn't agree with the President yesterday when he said it is a 
mental illness problem, but similarly we could work together to make 
sure that people who are seriously mentally ill don't buy weapons. That 
is the second noncontroversial policy proposal on which we could work 
together. Let's just admit we are going the wrong way, not the right 
  Earlier this year, Republicans passed a piece of legislation that 
allowed for 75,000 people in this country who have serious mental 
illness to be able to get off the list of prohibited purchasers and 
start buying guns again. These are people who were judged to be so 
mentally ill that they couldn't deposit a check. They were given 
conservator status for Social Security purposes. These are people who 
were so mentally ill, so limited in their cognitive abilities that they 
couldn't take a Social Security check and deposit it. Those people were 
prohibited from buying guns. This Congress passed a law earlier this 
year to say that those people who can't deposit a check should be able 
to go buy an assault weapon.
  If we are serious about trying to stop people with mental illness 
from getting weapons, let's work together on that instead of moving 
  Finally, it is an open secret that the existing background check 
system is broken. Let's not pretend we just woke up yesterday in 
amazement that the records of people who are seriously mentally ill or 
have been convicted of crimes aren't ending up on the background 
  I am holding in my hand the data that is available to every single 
one of us about the records that are being uploaded onto the background 
check system. For the Department of Defense, it is a whole bunch of 
zeros. The Army, the Navy, the Air Force--zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, 
zero, zero.
  Similarly, States aren't doing their part either. Connecticut 
uploaded 363,000 felony records onto the NICS system over the course of 
2016. Colorado uploaded 10 felony records in 2016. New York uploaded 
57,000 domestic violence records in 2016. North Carolina uploaded 261. 
There weren't 261 people in North Carolina who were convicted of 
domestic violence crimes in 2016; it is just that only 261 people went 
up on the list. Many other States, like the Department of Defense, have 
zeros in all of these columns. Many States are uploading no records 
onto the system.
  Now, admittedly, NICS tries to get those records through other means 
when States don't give it to them, but it is an open secret that the 
NICS system is broken. Congress at least tried to make some changes. 
After the Virginia Tech shooting, Congress did pass a NICS improvement 
bill, but it has not worked. It gave the Department of Justice the 
power to withhold Federal funding if States don't upload records. 
Despite the fact that there are a handful of States that have uploaded 
no records to NICS--zero--no State has been penalized under that 2007 
law. That is not a Republican or a Democratic problem. The Obama 
administration didn't penalize States, and Republican Presidents didn't 
penalize States. Why don't we work together on that?
  A couple of years ago, the House passed additional funding to help 
States, other jurisdictions, upload records. Why don't we find a way to 
work together to at least make the existing background check system 
  This feeling of helplessness that people have in this country, this 
feeling of impotence that nothing can be done to change the trajectory 
of violence in this country, the regular scroll across the bottom of 
your TV screen telling you news of the latest mass shootings where 
little kids and senior citizens are being gunned down in churches and 
schools--that sense of helplessness isn't real; it is a fiction, an 
invention of the gun lobby designed to make this place feel as if there 
is nothing that can be done in order to make sure that they can 
continue to make these obscene amounts of profits. There are things we 
can do.
  I understand that despite the popularity of background checks with 
the public, we are probably not going to get a vote on that, but let's 
work together to make sure that automatic weapons can't be in the hands 
of civilians. Let's make real the very simple premise that seriously 
mentally ill people shouldn't be able to buy guns. Let's fix the 
background check system so that, as Republicans tell us over and over 
again, at least we can enforce existing law. There are ways that we can 
stop this slaughter, and I don't know how we live with ourselves, how 
we sleep at night as a body if, in the face of these massacres, we 
don't even do the stuff we all agree on.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Texas.

                       Texas Church Mass Shooting

  Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, I come before this body a second day in a 
row to talk about an event that the Senator from Connecticut has been 
referring to that has shocked all of us. It has rattled us to the very 
core and shocked the conscience of the entire Nation.
  I didn't get a chance to hear everything he said about this today, 
but I was encouraged to hear him make comments about fixing the 
background check system, which I think failed us terribly here, and it 
failed, of course, the 26 people who lost their lives and the 20 more 
who were injured in this terrible shooting in Sutherland Springs, TX, 
during a Sunday morning church service at First Baptist Church.
  Of course, at times like these, we need to respect the right and the 
need of people to mourn and to grieve their loss and to express our 
solidarity with those families who were torn apart. One woman who has 
lived in Sutherland Springs for nearly 70 years described the community 
as a place where ``everybody knew everybody.'' She said that before 
Sunday, most people didn't even keep their doors locked because the 
town never experienced any significant crime. Well, now that has 
  Sutherland Springs has suffered at the hands of a man whom initial 
reports have described as having a known history of violence, a man 
whose victims included his own grandmother-in-law as well as the 
visiting pastor of the church. No community finds it easy to deal with 
unexpected heartbreaking

[[Page S7037]]

losses like this, but the fact that this crime involved so many tightly 
knit friends and neighbors and occurred in a house of worship on a 
Sunday morning and harmed so many innocent children makes the task much 
  As each new detail emerges from what is still an ongoing 
investigation, we need to study the whole puzzle and ask ourselves how 
this happened, why so many lives were lost, and what, if anything, 
could have been done to prevent it. We know, for example, that the 
gunman was court-martialed by the Air Force and convicted of 
seriousness domestic abuse, fracturing the skull of his own son. Under 
the relevant Federal law, the Gun Control Act of 1968, this should have 
prohibited him from ever purchasing a gun in the first place, but we 
know it didn't in this instance. This critically important information 
from the suspect's criminal history was not uploaded into the relevant 
background check databases even though a Federal law clearly requires 
that it be done.
  Finally and most troublingly, we know what happened next: Mr. Kelley 
unlawfully purchased four firearms after passing Federal background 
checks that did not turn up his Air Force convictions. Of course, the 
shooter lied on his paperwork. He was asked about these convictions--
that is part of the background check system--but because there was no 
record of it, he was able to lie his way into getting these firearms. 
This is very clearly a problem, and the Air Force has now admitted that 
Kelley's convictions should have barred him from ever purchasing or 
possessing firearms. What appears to have happened is that the records 
of the convictions were not uploaded into the National Instant Criminal 
Background Check System. They are required to be uploaded by Federal 
law already.
  There are still some questions to sift through, but I plan to 
introduce legislation--and I would be happy to work with my colleague 
from Connecticut--to ensure that all Federal Departments and Agencies, 
including the Department of Defense, upload the required conviction 
records into the national database. This legislation will also 
encourage, to the greatest extent possible under the Constitution, 
State and local governments to do the same. We can make the Federal 
Agencies do it. We can only request that the States do it, as the 
Senator from Connecticut pointed out earlier, and their record of 
compliance is lousy. It is lousy.
  Justice Department records indicate that some Federal Agencies and 
State governments are failing to comply with the Federal law. According 
to the Department of Justice, the number of these records that are 
actually uploaded is staggeringly low. That is unacceptable, and it 
must change.
  What is important to note, though, is that when the dust settles, the 
appropriate answers won't necessarily be the easy ones. The fact 
remains that under existing law, this atrocity should have been 
prevented. This gunman should not have been allowed to purchase 
firearms and should have been arrested when he tried to do so. We need 
to better understand why our existing laws didn't work in this 
instance, and that is what my proposed legislation will do. After 
analyzing the problem, we will try to ensure that everyone is complying 
with the law.
  In 2015, I introduced legislation called the Mental Health and Safe 
Communities Act that addressed a related issue: the failure of State 
and local authorities to upload valuable mental health records into the 
NICS background check database. I hope this demonstrates my willingness 
to work together with anybody who is willing to meet these problems 
  Right now, we need time and clarity. We need to know and continue to 
study the facts. Then, as we have already started to do, we need to 
consider all existing laws and regulations, both State and Federal, in 
light of this new information.
  Mr. President, I know we are coming up on a deadline. I ask unanimous 
consent to speak for an additional 5 minutes.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
  Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, as we wait for additional details, I want 
to say a few more words about the strong community of Sutherland 
Springs, one just 35 miles from my hometown of San Antonio, TX, where I 
grew up.
  First Baptist Church, where the shooting occurred, has served as a 
mainstay in the town since 1926. It is the site of church services 
every Sunday, weddings, social gatherings, and even some funerals. We 
hope the First Baptist Church can bounce back from this tragedy, and I 
am confident they can because faith, hope, and love can never be 
extinguished no matter the depravity, the evil that tries.
  We are not sure what will happen to the building or the congregation 
itself, but no matter what, the unique spirit of this community will no 
doubt endure. I am hopeful that the town of Sutherland Springs will 
come back too. If people like Stephen Willeford are any indication, it 
will. Stephen, of course, is the plumber who managed to hit the gunman 
through a gap in his body armor. He was joined by Johnnie Langendorff. 
In a truck, the two chased the gunman at high speeds for 11 miles into 
neighboring Guadalupe County. What these two men displayed is that in 
the worst circumstances, we won't let evil have its way. We won't let 
sick individuals like this shooter escape the consequences of their 
crimes. Strangers will come together and act quickly and courageously 
to defend the communities they love and in which they live.
  Today I join Governor Abbott, my colleagues--Senator Cruz and 
Representative Henry Cuellar, in whose House district this occurred--
and so many other Texans in once again pledging my support to the 
people of Sutherland Springs. I send my thoughts and prayers to those 
who lost parents, children, friends, and relatives in this unbelievable 
act of evil.
  The biggest danger, though, is that we become numb and we just simply 
move on to other matters. We can't let that happen. As Sherry Pomeroy, 
the wife of the pastor at First Baptist, said yesterday, ``Please don't 
forget Sutherland Springs.'' And when we hear people ask us to do 
something about terrible tragedies like this, let's do what we can, 
working together in a bipartisan way, to fix the holes in what is 
already the law, which says that people like this shooter should never 
have gotten their hands on a firearm in the first place. But either 
through human error or some failure of the background check system, he 
was able to do so. We need to fix that, and hopefully, in doing so, we 
can bring some small sense of justice to the people who lost so much 
last Sunday in Sutherland Springs, TX.
  I yield back the remainder of my time.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, all time is yielded back.
  The question is, Will the Senate advise and consent to the Gibson 
  Mr. ALEXANDER. I ask for the yeas and nays.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there a sufficient second?
  There appears to be a sufficient second.
  The clerk will call the roll.
  The bill clerk called the roll.
  Mr. CORNYN. The following Senator is necessarily absent: the Senator 
from Kentucky (Mr. Paul).
  Mr. DURBIN. I announce that the Senator from New Jersey (Mr. 
Menendez) is necessarily absent.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Cruz). Are there any other Senators in the 
Chamber desiring to vote?
  The result was announced--yeas 91, nays 7, as follows:

                      [Rollcall Vote No. 262 Ex.]


     Cortez Masto

[[Page S7038]]

     Van Hollen



                             NOT VOTING--2

  The nomination was confirmed.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. Under the previous order, the motion to 
reconsider is considered made and laid upon the table and the President 
will be immediately notified of the Senate's action.