Democrats offer NRA gun vote to move D.C. Voting Rights Act

House Democratic leaders are offering the National Rifle Association (NRA) a separate vote on legislation that would weaken the District of Columbia’s gun laws, trying to wriggle out of a conundrum created by their centrist members.

An amendment supported by the powerful gun-rights lobbying organization is holding up a bill that would give the District of Columbia a voting member of Congress. That legislation is a priority for Democratic leaders.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the chief advocate among leadership for D.C. Voting Rights Act, confirmed Tuesday that a standalone bill on the gun provisions has been discussed.

“Is that an option? Yes, it is, and if that frankly got us there, I’d be for that option,” Hoyer told reporters Tuesday. “I’m for the option that gets us there.”

But there doesn’t appear to be much enthusiasm for the idea at the NRA. Asked about the idea Tuesday, the NRA’s top lobbyist, Chris W. Cox, declined to offer any words of support.

“We look forward to continuing to work in a bipartisan manner with the majority in the House who support the National Rifle Association’s desire to see the District of Columbia adhere to the Constitution,” Cox said.

The NRA-backed amendment would wipe out most of the District’s gun laws, changing Washington from one of the toughest places to buy a gun to one of the easiest.

The offer from Democratic leaders could create a tough choice for the gun lobbying group.

It’s unlikely the NRA will get a vote on the gun amendment as part of the D.C. vote. Even if it did, the gun amendment would likely get attached and then the overall bill would fail.

That’s because Republicans and gun-rights Democrats would unite to add the gun amendment. Then Republicans who don’t want to give D.C. a vote in the House would unite with anti-gun Democrats to defeat the overall bill.

If Democrats had a separate vote on the D.C. gun language, sponsored by Rep. Travis Childers (D-Miss.), it would probably pass with the support of Republicans and centrist Democrats.

But there would be nothing to compel the Senate to take it up. Gun-rights lawmakers and the NRA still remember last year, when the NRA negotiated a House vote on a similar bill, only to have the Senate ignore it. The Senate this year voted to amend the gun provisions to its version of the voting rights bill, allowing centrists in that chamber to show their support. But the upper chamber would likely take up the House version without the amendment, or strip out the language in a conference.

Hoyer said there is also discussion of trying to get centrist Democrats to stick with leadership on a procedural vote that excludes the gun amendment. But the NRA has threatened to “score” that procedural vote, meaning the NRA would tell its members that those who support leadership have opposed gun rights. That’s not a popular position in many rural, conservative districts.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Tuesday to discuss the bill, but no results of the meeting were reported.

No vote has been scheduled on the voting rights bill this week. It was pulled last week when leaders realized they might lose the vote. Hoyer declined to predict when the bill might come back up. But he said he does believe the D.C. vote bill will be signed by President Obama this year.