The National Rifle Association is running out of friends in South Florida.
Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who received campaign cash from the NRA four months after the Parkland shooting, distanced himself from the nation’s largest pro-gun lobby and sided with Democrats to expand background checks last week. Diaz-Balart’s new stance blunts a potential 2020 campaign talking point for Democrats, who hammered him on his gun record last year but still came up 21 percentage points short of unseating one of the most well-known figures in Miami politics.
Diaz-Balart says his support for expanding background checks does not represent a philosophical shift on guns, though he did not add his name as a co-sponsor for a background check bill in the last Congress that received the support of 210 lawmakers, including 14 Republicans. He also voted in favor of an NRA-backed bill in 2017 that would have made it easier for gun owners with concealed carry permits to transport their weapons across state lines.
“The bill is super flawed but I figured that it is actually the closest one to being a real effort to get something that might be able to get negotiations in the Senate,” Diaz-Balart said in an interview. “The concept of people having background checks is obviously something I support. The bill wasn’t well-drafted but I figured it’s not a bad place to start and we’ll see what happens.”
In 2018, Diaz-Balart was attacked over his stance on guns by Democratic opponent Mary Barzee Flores, Parkland parents and a host of national gun control groups. Diaz-Balart is also the single largest recipient of direct NRA campaign cash among Floridians in Congress since 1998, partially due to his status as the state’s longest-tenured Republican.
Though he easily won reelection last year, 2020 could be a different story for Miami’s only House Republican in a district where President Donald Trump is not popular.