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Lawmakers Return To Washington With Contentious Issues On Their Plates

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Congress is preparing to leave for its long summer recess. Before the lawmakers leave town, they have a couple of very contentious issues on their plates - guns and Zika. With us to talk about both is NPR's congressional correspondent, Ailsa Chang. Good morning.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, the House members are just back from a Fourth of July break, but they did make news before they left, with Democrats staging this 25-hour sit-in to push for more gun control legislation. Did that actually do anything? I mean, did it build any momentum for gun control?

CHANG: Well, it certainly built some momentum - at least that's what many Democrats think. And House Republicans say the chamber is going to be voting on a gun measure this week. But it is nowhere near the measure Democrats want. It's actually almost identical to a Republican measure that already failed in the Senate. That measure was written by Republican John Cornyn of Texas, and it was endorsed by the NRA. And what Cornyn's bill along with this House bill would do is this - it would force the government to show probable cause before it could prevent anyone on the terror watch list from buying a gun. And that's a key phrase here - probable cause. It's a very, very high standard. And that's why Democrats in both chambers oppose this measure. They say, under that standard, virtually no one on the list would be prevented from buying a gun. But Republicans say they're just ensuring due process for people whose names happen to be on the terror watch list.

MONTAGNE: Well, what kind of a bill do Democrats want?

CHANG: Well, they're pushing for two measures. One's referred to as the no-fly, no-buy proposal. It would let the government block anyone on the no-fly list from purchasing firearms. And the no-fly list is actually a smaller sub-list within the overall terror watch list. And Democrats also want to vote on a measure to expand background checks to private sales, including at gun shows and over the Internet. So they're going to try to negotiate all of that this week.

MONTAGNE: Now, over at the Senate side, they're going to be dealing again with a bill to provide emergency funding for Zika. Of course, we're well into mosquito season. What - what should we expect to see with that and when?

CHANG: There's a bill that has already failed in the Senate. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he's going to have everyone vote on it again - the exact same legislation. So we're expecting it to fail again. Democrats have been adamantly opposed to this bill. For starters, House leaders had passed it in the middle of the night, during the Democrats' gun sit-in. And then, when it went over to the Senate side, Democrats there blocked it. So now what we have are Republicans blaming Democrats for killing the Zika emergency aid package. And Democrats are blaming Republicans for putting what they call totally unacceptable provisions into the bill.

MONTAGNE: And what are the provisions that make the Democrats so deeply opposed to this particular measure?

CHANG: What they're most infuriated about is that Planned Parenthood and other private health centers wouldn't be allowed to receive any of the funds provided under the bill. Only public health centers or Medicaid-run clinics would get these funds. So it is very likely that Congress will adjourn for seven weeks this summer without ever having been able to pass any emergency funding for Zika.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR congressional correspondent Ailsa Chang. Ailsa, thanks very much.

CHANG: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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