McConnell quashes Senate effort on guns

McConnell quashes Senate effort on guns
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: VA nominee on the ropes | White House signals it will fight for pick | Trump talks Syria with Macron | McConnell tees up Pompeo vote Schumer to oppose Pompeo as secretary of State Trump's nominee for the VA is on the ropes 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 CollinsWinter Olympians call for action on climate Trump’s CIA pick facing brutal confirmation fight Senate panel to examine Trump officials' election security efforts 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 JohnsonOvernight Cybersecurity: Homeland Security official says Russia likely targeted more than 21 states | Senate approves Trump's NSA chief | Lawmakers unveil bipartisan internet privacy bill Senate panel to examine Trump officials' election security efforts GOP senator: Congress needs ‘to move on’ from Russia probe 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 McCainMellman: Memories may be beautiful, yet… Schumer to oppose Pompeo as secretary of State Arizona GOP blocked from changing rules on filling McCain's seat MORE (Ariz.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenators debate new business deduction, debt in tax law hearing Tax rules will be subject to more OMB review under new memo Ending sex trafficking tomorrow requires preventing child abuse today MORE (Ohio), Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrSenators, ask Dr. Ronny Jackson about civil legal aid for homeless vets Senators chart path forward on election security bill Overnight Cybersecurity: Staff changes upend White House cyber team | Trump sends cyber war strategy to Congress | CIA pick to get hearing in May | Malware hits Facebook accounts MORE (N.C.), Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenators fume over fight to change rules for Trump's nominees GOP poised to advance rules change to speed up Trump nominees McCaskill outpaces GOP opponent by more than million MORE (Mo.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioLobbying world Former Florida congressmen mull bipartisan gubernatorial run: report Winners and losers from Jim Bridenstine’s confirmation as NASA administrator 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 FlakeGOP anxiety grows over Trump’s Iran decision GOP senator: Trump's comment on Kim Jong Un 'surpasses understanding' Republican candidate favored in Arizona special House election 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 AyotteThe Hill's Morning Report: Koch Network re-evaluating midterm strategy amid frustrations with GOP Audit finds US Defense Department wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars US sends A-10 squadron to Afghanistan for first time in three years MORE (R-N.H.), a vulnerable incumbent, and centrist Democratic Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOvernight Health Care: Trump's VA pick on the ropes | White House signals it will fight for nominee | Senate panel approves opioid bill | FDA cracking down on e-cig sales to kids Schumer to oppose Pompeo as secretary of State Senate panel to vote next month on maternal mortality bill 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 ReidLobbying world Senators fume over fight to change rules for Trump's nominees After Dems stood against Pompeo, Senate’s confirmation process needs a revamp 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.”