WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan announced Tuesday he has formed a bipartisan House panel to examine ways to improve relations between law enforcement and the black community.
“I think it’s very important that we calm down in this country, we start listening to each other, we start talking about solutions,” Ryan said in a town hall televised on CNN.
“We’re already forming a bipartisan group in Congress to do just that – about training, about communities.”
Ryan made the announcement after saying earlier Tuesday he wouldn’t bring up any gun legislation for votes before the end of this week when the long summer recess begins, drawing criticism from Democrats pressing for action on their gun-control bills.
Ryan (R-Wis.) told his caucus he was pushing action until after the seven-week recess because he said he didn’t “want to make a tense situation worse” after last week’s police shootings of black men and the killing of five Dallas officers, said Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford).
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus that has met with the speaker, said he sees some hope in the panel but will continue to press for votes on gun legislation.
“There is at least an attempt to have some talking without publicity to see if there is something we can come to an agreement on,” Meeks said.
Ryan’s decision to kick the issue of guns into September is the latest development in a monthlong political battle between congressional Democrats and Republicans over an emotional issue for their supporters in the aftermath of the Orlando mass shooting.
Democrats still panned Ryan’s refusal to allow votes this week on King’s bill to block suspected terrorists from buying guns and another to expand background checks to gun shows and the internet.
“It’s a cop-out,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), an organizer of Democrats’ protests to demand votes, including the House sit-in last month. “In the absence of action from House Republicans, Democrats are going to redouble the pressure.”
Democrats acknowledged they’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to demand votes on gun bills after an ISIS-inspired gunman killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub last month.
Yet Ryan has held firm in opposing measures he said violate Second Amendment rights.
Republican leaders countered the Democrats’ bills with an antiterrorism package that included an NRA-approved measure sponsored by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) that requires law enforcement to get a court order to block suspected terrorists from purchasing a firearm.
Democrats said Zeldin’s bill would be hard to enforce.
Republican leaders had hoped to vote on their package before the recess, but postponed the vote after GOP conservatives objected, saying it fails to protect gun rights. Zeldin said he has talked with colleagues about their ideas to change his measure.
Zeldin took a shot at Democrats. “Some in Congress are mistakenly looking for a vote just to have a vote, regardless of whether or not the proposal is written correctly or even passes,” he said.
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) criticized Republican leaders for creating a bill to protect their members from being accused of not doing anything after the recent mass shooting.
“At what point will they say, ‘We have to do something to prevent this from happening again,’ ” Rice said.