2020 Dems unify around assault weapons ban, putting pressure on colleagues

2020 Dems unify around assault weapons ban, putting pressure on colleagues

Democratic senators seen as possible contenders for the White House in 2020 are all taking positions in strong support of an assault weapons ban, pressuring their colleagues up for reelection this year.

Though the positioning may not effect the prospects of legislation, its support by all of the 2020 would-be candidates puts lawmakers like Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampBiden: Trump ‘dumbs down’ American values Power struggle threatens to sink bank legislation Overnight Finance: House threatens to freeze Senate Dodd-Frank rollback | New Russia sanctions | Trump vs. Trudeau on trade | Court tosses Obama financial adviser rule MORE (N.D.) in a tough spot months before the November midterm elections. 


“This is where the real conflict is,” one top Democratic strategist concluded. “There isn’t really space for an anti-gun candidate in the party and yet there are senators who have a tough balancing act for sure.”

Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist, added: “The reason for the tension within the party is pretty obvious. Democrats have no choice but to press this issue. With 69 percent in favor of a complete ban, they’re on the right side of public opinion on the issue … For the 2020 Dems, a ban on assault weapons is a no-brainer.” 

No Democrat running for the White House wants to be outflanked from the left on guns.

During the 2016 Democratic primary, for example, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump adds to legal team after attacks on Mueller Press: You can’t believe a word he says Feehery: March Madness MORE slammed rival Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSenate tees up Yemen vote for Tuesday Sanders supporters cancel Clinton protest Congress moving to end US involvement in Yemen MORE (I-Vt.) for not being strong enough on gun control.

“No one wants to be the lightweight when it comes to guns and particularly an assault weapons ban,” the strategist said. “They all want to be seen as the ones who really rushed to the forefront and pushed this issue when it really mattered.” 

All of the prospective 2020 Democratic candidates in the upper chamber — Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenFix the flaw in financial self-regulation Power struggle threatens to sink bank legislation Feinstein faces new pressure from left over CIA nominee MORE (Mass.) Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandCoalition presses Transportation Dept. for stricter oversight of driverless cars Do Dems need someone people like to beat Trump? Franchisers blitz Congress in search of liability shield MORE (N.Y.) Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSenate confirms Trump's border chief Do Dems need someone people like to beat Trump? Gun protests sweep nation as House passes school safety bill MORE (Calif.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker: 'This is the most important midterm election of our lifetime' Senate GOP: Legislation to protect Mueller not needed NY and NJ lawmakers press Ryan on Gateway project funding MORE (N.J.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSenate Commerce presses Facebook, Cambridge Analytic for answers on data Overnight Tech: Facebook faces crisis over Cambridge Analytica data | Lawmakers demand answers | What to watch for next | Day one of AT&T's merger trial | Self-driving Uber car kills pedestrian Overnight Cybersecurity: Trump-linked data firm Cambridge Analytica attracts scrutiny | House passes cyber response team bill | What to know about Russian cyberattacks on energy grid MORE (Minn.) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenate tees up Yemen vote for Tuesday Congress moving to end US involvement in Yemen This week: Congress races to prevent third shutdown MORE (Conn.) are all co-sponsors of Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinCoalition presses Transportation Dept. for stricter oversight of driverless cars Saudi energy deal push sparks nuclear weapon concerns Liberals seek ouster of HHS official blocking abortions MORE’s (Calif.) legislation to ban assault weapons. Sanders has also said he favors banning assault weapons. 

“These weapons are not for hunting,” he said. “They’re for killing human beings.” 

Support for the ban on assault weapons has grown among Democrats over the last 11 years. In 2007, 67 Democrats supported a ban. That number continued to grow in 2013 with 83 Democrats co-sponsoring legislation. The number grew to 149 in 2015 before settling on 167 co-sponsors this year. 

As Democrats call for assault weapons to be banned, President TrumpDonald John TrumpLieu: There will be 'widespread civil unrest' if Trump fires Mueller Attorneys for Trump, Mueller hold face-to-face meeting to discuss potential interview topics: report Trump tariffs not helpful for nuclear talks, South Korea says MORE is also showing signs of movement. 

This week, Trump — sitting beside Feinstein — signaled that he might be willing to include parts of her assault weapons legislation as part of a bipartisan deal.

Sitting across from them was Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate GOP: We will grow our majority in midterms CIA torture could stymie nominee An upset, yes, but a short victory lap for Democrat Lamb in Pennsylvania MORE (W.Va.) the Democrat who refuses to support a ban on assault weapons. (“I don’t know anyone who’s committed a crime with it,” Manchin said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe this week.)

“Joe, are you ready?” a visibly excited Feinstein asked the West Virginia Senator after Trump made his remarks.

Manchin spearheaded aggressive background checks legislation in 2013 in partnership with Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyWH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race Newly declassified memos detail extent of improper Obama-era NSA spying MORE (R-Pa.), but faces a potentially tough reelection race this year in a state where Trump cruised to victory in 2016.

Manchin told Feinstein he was at least willing to consider some of her proposal. 

“Can you do that? Joe, can you do that?” Trump asked. 

But there is still a divide on the issue in the Democratic caucus, one that has lingered since a vote on an assault weapons ban failed 40-60 in the Senate in 2013, a few months after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Sixteen Democrats, including Heitkamp, Manchin and Sens. Michael BennetMichael Farrand Bennet2020 Dems unify around assault weapons ban, putting pressure on colleagues McConnell, Schumer tap colleagues to explore budget reform Democrats march toward single-payer health care MORE (Colo.), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSenate GOP: We will grow our majority in midterms Senate passes bipartisan bill to roll back Dodd-Frank Green Party Senate candidate was previously on state GOP payroll: report MORE (Mont.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyDem super PAC launches ad defending Donnelly on taxes Republicans insist tax law will help in midterms GOP chairman: House won't vote on Senate bill to loosen Dodd-Frank unless senators negotiate MORE (Ind.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichDems release interactive maps to make case against GOP tax law CIA torture could stymie nominee Overnight Cybersecurity: Senators demand Trump detail cyber strategy | Election security bill faces hurdles | North Korea linked to new cyberattacks on Turkish financial sector MORE (N.M.) and Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Energy: Dem says EPA isn't cooperating on 'privacy booth' probe | Tribe, Zinke split over border wall | Greens tout support for renewables in swing states Overnight Regulation: Facebook faces new crisis over Cambridge Analytica data | Whistleblower gets record SEC payout | Self-driving Uber car kills pedestrian | Trump bans trading in Venezuelan cryptocurrency Senate Dem: Pruitt isn’t cooperating with ‘privacy booth’ probe MORE (N.M.), as well as independent Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingAngus King: McCabe firing seemed 'mean-spirited' With bills on the table, Congress must heed the call to fix our national parks Rand Paul to oppose Pompeo, Haspel MORE (Maine), voted “no.”

Asked about her 2013 vote on Thursday, Heitkamp said she thought the legislation was “overly broad.” 

“It included banning semi-automatics, and I actually don't think the assault weapons ban would accomplish much,” Heitkamp told The Weekly Standard. 

Democrats acknowledged the awkward divide within the party. But internal pressure aside, Bannon said the 2018 candidates can explain the daylight between their position and their Senate colleagues who may run in 2020. 

“If I were a senator like Heitkamp or Manchin, I’d use this internal fight to show that they’re not being held captive by the national Democratic party. I’d use it as a tool to stake out their own independence."

“Even though there’s tension with their colleagues, if they’re smart enough they’ll use it to their advantage,” Bannon said. “Both sides could win.”