Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellThe Memo: Winners and losers from the battle over health care GOP senators pitch alternatives after House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill Under pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support MORE (R-Ky.) on Thursday cut the legs out from a bipartisan effort to keep suspected terrorists from buying guns.
In doing so, McConnell, a master of the Senate’s arcane rules, provided cover for vulnerable Republicans who wanted to be seen as supporting the effort but did not want to cross the National Rifle Association.
McConnell had promised a vote this week to Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsGOP senators pitch alternatives after House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill Five takeaways from Labor pick’s confirmation hearing ObamaCare repeal faces last obstacle before House vote MORE (R-Maine) on her bipartisan measure barring people on two terrorist watchlists from buying guns or explosives.
But what he scheduled was not what she had in mind.
Instead of setting up a vote to add the Collins legislation to the pending appropriations bill on the Senate floor, McConnell scheduled a vote to discard it.
The Collins bill survived that test in a 46-52 vote, but it fell far short of winning 60 votes, the threshold necessary to overcome procedural hurdles.
The result allows Republicans to argue that no other action is necessary.
“It didn’t have sixty votes. That’s what a motion to table does. It demonstrates where the votes are,” said Don Stewart, McConnell’s spokesman.
McConnell also set up a vote on an alternative sponsored by Sen. Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonLawmakers share photos of their dogs in honor of National Puppy Day GOP targets Baldwin over Wisconsin VA scandal The Hill's Whip List: 36 GOP no votes on ObamaCare repeal plan MORE (R-Wis.) that was not opposed by the NRA.
The last-minute measure had no chance of passing the Senate but gave political cover for Johnson and Republican Sens. John McCainJohn McCainMcCain: Trump admin must fill State Dept. jobs McCain says he hasn't met with Trump since inauguration Overnight Defense: General warns State Department cuts would hurt military | Bergdahl lawyers appeal Trump motion | Senators demand action after nude photo scandal MORE (Ariz.), Rob PortmanRob PortmanOvernight Finance: Senators spar over Wall Street at SEC pick's hearing | New CBO score for ObamaCare bill | Agency signs off on Trump DC hotel lease GOP senators offer bill to require spending cuts with debt-limit hikes Vulnerable Senate Dem: Border tax concerning for agriculture MORE (Ohio), Richard BurrRichard BurrDevin Nunes has jeopardized the oversight role of Congress Schumer: Trump must apologize for wiretapping claim Senate panel asks Trump ally Roger Stone to preserve Russia-related records MORE (N.C.), Roy BluntRoy BluntTop Dems prep for future while out of the spotlight Overnight Healthcare: Pressure mounts for changes to GOP ObamaCare bill Pressure mounts for changes to ObamaCare bill MORE (Mo.) and Marco RubioMarco RubioSenators introduce new Iran sanctions Senate intel panel has not seen Nunes surveillance documents: lawmakers With no emerging leaders, no clear message, Democrats flounder MORE (Fla.), who are all in challenging reelection races this fall.
All six voted against the Collins bill but in favor of the Johnson measure.
Sponsors of the Collins bill say their measure could have passed if McConnell had set up a positive vote to add it to the bill instead of a negative vote to kill it and if he had offered it cleanly without a competing side-by-side alternative.
“If you put this one up for cloture now, it’s got a good shot,” said Sen. Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeOvernight Regulation: Senate moves to strike Obama-era internet privacy rules Overnight Tech: Senate votes to eliminate Obama internet privacy rules | FCC chief wants to stay out of 'political debate' on fake news | Wikileaks reveals new CIA docs Senate votes to block internet privacy regulations MORE (R-Ariz.), who backed the Collins measure.
He said the Johnson alternative gave his colleagues a reason to vote against his bill.
“There was a competing one,” he added. “There were two competing amendments. If there’s only ours left, then I suspect a number of those who voted for the other one will come over.”
Collins lamented that the way McConnell set up the votes made it tough to know how much support her proposal could have garnered had it been offered cleanly.
“That’ll be a question I’ll never know the answer to,” she said when asked how her amendment would have done had the Johnson amendment not been there to provide political cover.
When asked if she wanted to have another vote on the proposal, Collins said, “Of course,” just before taking an elevator down to the Capitol basement.
The maneuver allowed McConnell to slip out of a tough spot.
Pressure on Congress to do something about guns has grown following a Senate filibuster last week and a sit-in on the House floor by Democrats that concluded hours before Thursday’s votes.
A CNN/ORC poll released Monday showed that 85 percent of respondents nationwide favored preventing people on government terrorism watchlists from buying guns.
By scheduling a vote on a motion to table, McConnell allowed a vote on Collins’s plan without giving it any real chance of passing, averting the wrath of Second Amendment advocates.
Thursday’s votes effectively quashed the momentum behind the gun control measure that had built throughout the week.
Collins had teamed up with Flake, Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteFEC commissioner to Trump: Prove voter fraud Live coverage: Day three of Supreme Court nominee hearing Lewandowski saw no evidence of voter fraud in New Hampshire MORE (R-N.H.), a vulnerable incumbent, and centrist Democratic Sen. Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampUnder pressure, Dems hold back Gorsuch support Overnight Finance: Senators spar over Wall Street at SEC pick's hearing | New CBO score for ObamaCare bill | Agency signs off on Trump DC hotel lease The Hill’s Whip List: Where Dems stand on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee MORE (N.D.) to offer a bipartisan bill after four other measures were rejected by the Senate on Monday.
More narrowly drawn than one of the measures that failed Monday, it would only have blocked gun purchases by people on the terrorist no-fly list and the so-called selectee list, who require additional screening at airports.
It also would have given people denied firearms a 14-day period to appeal the decision and would have reimbursed their attorney’s fees in the case of a successful appeal.
Democrats blasted McConnell for setting up what they derided as a “fake” vote on the Collins amendment.
“The Collins vote, which just took place a few minutes ago, was ... for lack of a better description, just a show vote,” said Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidThis obscure Senate rule could let VP Mike Pence fully repeal ObamaCare once and for all Sharron Angle to challenge GOP rep in Nevada Fox's Watters asks Trump whom he would fire: Baldwin, Schumer or Zucker MORE (Nev.).
He called on McConnell to schedule a vote that would give colleagues a path to adding it to the underlying Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill.
“I hope now the Republican leader will bring the Collins compromise to a vote here on the floor — a real vote,” he said.
But that’s not likely to happen, at least anytime soon.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), an endangered incumbent who voted for the Collins amendment, said voting on the motion to discard it was sufficient.
“We just saw what the vote is. Is it your theory that the vote count would change?” he said. “There were 52 votes against tabling. If we had a cloture motion on this, it would get 52 votes.”