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Senate panel will hold March 14 hearing on lapses surrounding school massacre in Florida

Washington Post

A Senate committee this month will examine law enforcement breakdowns surrounding the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Thursday that the panel will hold a March 14 hearing to examine the role of federal and local authorities, as well as social-media companies, in not preventing the attack.

"The FBI and local law enforcement failed to act on credible tips that should have neutralized the killer and gotten him help," Grassley said Thursday at a meeting of the panel.

Judiciary Committee staff members, he said, have been briefed by the FBI as well as by "social media companies like Google and Facebook" on the circumstances that led up to the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Nikolas Cruz, who is charged in the massacre, allegedly delivered warnings, on social media networks and in comments to classmates and others, that foreshadowed the attack that left 14 students and three faculty members at his former school dead.

"It has been clear from these briefings that the systems designed to prevent troubled individuals like the Parkland Shooter from engaging in violent acts failed miserably," Grassley said. "Government must be held accountable for its mistakes. It is also clear that private companies can do more to prevent future mass shootings by identifying threatening content and warning law enforcement officials."

Grassley made the announcement at a hearing scheduled to quickly refer a slate of judicial nominees to the full Senate. But it became a back-and-forth between Grassley and the panel's senior Democrats, who called for faster action to curb gun violence and complained that the committee had shirked from other duties such as immigration reform.

"There's a tendency among Republicans and Democrats on gun policy to hold out for legislation favored by groups on the extremes of the ideological spectrum," Grassley told his colleagues. "We appear to be in a unique position where there's a real opportunity to work toward legislation that can advance the common cause - and the common cause ought to be a safer and more civil society."

The committee meeting came a day after Grassley and other lawmakers met with President Donald Trump at the White House to discuss action on new gun legislation.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the Judiciary panel's ranking Democrat, said Trump "was vigorous with his statements that broad, common-sense measures should be adopted by this Congress."

"He not only urged us to adopt sweeping gun violence reforms, but he also challenged us not to succumb to the gun lobby's agenda," she said, adding that Trump wants Congress to pass "a big, beautiful bill."

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., blasted Republicans leading the committee for not holding hearings or debate about legislation to address gun violence, immigration policy or Russia's interference in American elections.

Noting that lawmakers in both parties have generated several gun violence proposals in the past two weeks, Durbin asked, "How many hearings have been scheduled on any of these ideas? How will we actually promote legislation? Will it drop from the heavens or from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Or will we do our job and sit down and draw up a bill, bring it to the floor, allow it to be subjected to amendment debate as the Senate once did regularly?"

Separately Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters she was "encouraged" by the White House meeting and "optimistic" Trump would take action.

"The public sentiment is here," she said. "The president reads that very clearly."

But Pelosi said Trump would have to convince members of his party to set aside their long-standing objections to even narrow new restrictions on guns.

"We have to move forward, and not just some little bill," she said. "It has to be substantial. It might not be an assault weapons ban, but practically anything short of that is what we would expect."

House Republican leaders have asked pointed questions about the institutional lapses that could have allowed the Parkland shooter to carry out his attack, while brushing off calls for significant new gun laws.

"This is a time for asking tough questions," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Tuesday. "How could this have happened? What can we do to make our schools safer in the future? We're going to be looking at the system failures that occurred here, and are going to be talking about what changes are needed."

The leaders of the House Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sought and received a staff briefing from FBI leaders on their actions surrounding the Parkland massacre. But they have not publicly announced any further oversight activities.

One prominent Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, outlined legislation he could support in a Thursday floor speech - including improvements to school security, the creation of federal gun violence restraining orders allowing authorities to seize weapons from people found to pose a threat, and new penalties for "straw buyers" who purchase firearms intended for people who are prevented from buying guns themselves.

However, Rubio said the Parkland massacre did not result from gaps in the law but from a "massive multi-systemic failure involving federal, state and local authorities who failed to identify the threat [the gunman] posed and coordinate a response to stop him before he took action."

"It is this failure which we should focus on by addressing the shortcomings and vulnerabilities in our current laws and policies," he said.

Rubio did not endorse the universal background check measure backed by Democrats and some Republicans, and although he said he continues to consider raising the minimum age for purchasing rifles and restricting high-capacity magazines, he did not back any specific proposal.

Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.

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