McConnell quashes Senate effort on guns

McConnell quashes Senate effort on guns
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell spokesman on Putin visit: 'There is no invitation from Congress' Overnight Defense: Trump inviting Putin to DC | Senate to vote Monday on VA pick | Graham open to US-Russia military coordination in Syria Senate to vote Monday on Trump's VA nominee 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.

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“The scenario that Sen. McConnell set up was textbook McConnell,” said Brian Darling, a former Senate Republican aide.

McConnell had promised a vote this week to Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report — Russia furor grips Washington Overnight Health Care: Novartis pulls back on drug price hikes | House Dems launch Medicare for All caucus | Trump officials pushing ahead on Medicaid work requirements Senate panel to vote next week on banning 'gag clauses' in pharmacy contracts 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 JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonJuan Williams: Putin wins as GOP spins GOP senator: Harley-Davidson is right to move some production overseas GOP senator: Trump’s policies doing 'permanent damage' 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 Sidney McCainControversial Trump judicial nominee withdraws Trump vows to hold second meeting with Putin Ex-Montenegro leader fires back at Trump: ‘Strangest president' in history MORE (Ariz.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Bipartisan bill would bring needed funds to deteriorating National Park Service infrastructure The Memo: Trump allies hope he can turn the page from Russian fiasco MORE (Ohio), Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrCongress should build upon the ABLE Act, giving more Americans with disabilities access to financial tools Christine Todd Whitman: Trump should step down over Putin press conference GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki MORE (N.C.), Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Election security bill picks up new support in Senate Overnight Defense: Fallout from tense NATO summit | Senators push to block ZTE deal in defense bill | Blackwater founder makes new pitch for mercenaries to run Afghan war MORE (Mo.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit GOP senator: We should accept Trump's 'apology' for Russian election interference comments Controversial Trump judicial nominee withdraws 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 FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeSenate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials Flake: Trump's Russia summit ‘truly an Orwellian moment’ 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 Ann AyotteNew Hampshire governor signs controversial voting bill Former Arizona senator to shepherd Supreme Court nominee through confirmation process Shut the back door to America's opioid epidemic MORE (R-N.H.), a vulnerable incumbent, and centrist Democratic Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampDems pressure GOP to take legal action supporting pre-existing conditions Election Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas Senate Dems build huge cash edge in battlegrounds 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 Mason ReidSenate GOP breaks record on confirming Trump picks for key court Don’t worry (too much) about Kavanaugh changing the Supreme Court Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick 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.”