McConnell quashes Senate effort on guns

McConnell quashes Senate effort on guns
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellRand Paul a yes on key healthcare hurdle Top Dem: ‘Ironic’ McCain could back bill that would put people with illnesses at risk Bill Maher on McCain: Someone in a health crisis should see how wrong repealing ObamaCare would be 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 CollinsCollins on hot mic: Farenthold 'so unattractive, it's unbelievable' Manchin on GOP lawmaker’s suggestion for a duel with female senators: I’ll ‘step outside with him’ Congress must extend critical federal funding for type 1 diabetes research 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 JohnsonUnhappy senators complain about healthcare process Cruz: Tax reform chances ‘drop significantly’ if healthcare fails GOP frets over stalled agenda 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 McCainLive coverage: Senate heads for dramatic healthcare repeal vote Top Dem: ‘Ironic’ McCain could back bill that would put people with illnesses at risk Bill Maher on McCain: Someone in a health crisis should see how wrong repealing ObamaCare would be MORE (Ariz.), Rob PortmanRob PortmanMcConnell to pin down colleagues on healthcare Unhappy senators complain about healthcare process Thune: Progress being made on Medicaid 'wraparound' MORE (Ohio), Richard BurrRichard BurrKushner says he did not collude with Russia, had no improper contacts Dems slam Trump for 'stonewalling' oversight efforts Burr: Nunes 'created' unmasking allegations against Rice MORE (N.C.), Roy BluntRoy BluntOvernight Healthcare: Trump plays hardball on ObamaCare | Senators revive negotiations | CBO says repeal without replace would cost 32M insurance White House working with moderates on new Medicaid proposal Senate GOP revives negotiation over ObamaCare repeal and replace MORE (Mo.) and Marco RubioMarco RubioMexican politicians have a new piñata: Donald Trump Bush ethics lawyer: Congress must tell Trump not to fire Mueller The private alternative to the National Flood Insurance Program  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 FlakeMcCain returning to Senate in time for health vote Trump slams 'sad' Republicans who won't 'protect' him Trump backers eye GOP primary challenges for Flake, Heller 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 AyotteOPINION: Democracy will send ISIS to the same grave as communism Kelly Ayotte joins defense contractor's board of directors Week ahead: Comey firing dominates Washington MORE (R-N.H.), a vulnerable incumbent, and centrist Democratic Sen. Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampRegulatory experts push Senate leaders for regulatory reform Why governors hold power in the battle for GOP healthcare votes Vulnerable senators raise big money ahead of 2018 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 ReidConservative Senate candidate calls on GOP to end filibuster Ex-Reid aide: McConnell's 'original sin' was casting ObamaCare as 'partisan, socialist takeover' GOP faces growing demographic nightmare in West 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.”