Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellGOP leaders, top tax writers: Trump principles will be 'critical guideposts' Trump proposes sweeping tax reform McConnell warns Dems: No 'poison pills' in funding measure 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 CollinsOvernight Energy: Lawmakers work toward deal on miners’ benefits Schumer: Senate Russia probe moving too slowly Collins: I'm not working with Freedom Caucus chairman on healthcare 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 JohnsonTrump should work with Congress to block regulations on prepaid cards Five reasons to worry about the ShadowBrokers hack Border Patrol could drop polygraph requirement for new agents: report 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: China has done ‘nothing’ on North Korea Graham: There are 'no good choices left' with North Korea Graham: North Korea shouldn't underestimate Trump MORE (Ariz.), Rob PortmanRob PortmanSenators push 'cost-effective' reg reform Overnight Energy: Lawmakers work toward deal on miners’ benefits Lawmakers urge Pruitt not to close Midwest EPA office MORE (Ohio), Richard BurrRichard BurrBurr: US in new Cold War with Russia Senator: No signs of GOP 'slow-walking' Russia investigation GOP senator hits back at criticism of Russia probe MORE (N.C.), Roy BluntRoy BluntDisconnect: Trump, GOP not on same page GOP senator: There will never be full U.S.-Mexico border wall This week: Congress returns to government shutdown fight MORE (Mo.) and Marco RubioMarco RubioWhat’s with Trump’s spelling mistakes? Boeing must be stopped from doing business with Iran Top Trump officials push border wall as government shutdown looms 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 FlakeTrump wall faces skepticism on border No Congress members along Mexico border support funding Trump's wall Obama-linked group launches ads targeting Republicans on immigration 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 AyotteBottom Line How Gorsuch's confirmation shapes the next Supreme Court battle THE MEMO: Trump set to notch needed win with Gorsuch MORE (R-N.H.), a vulnerable incumbent, and centrist Democratic Sen. Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampSenators push 'cost-effective' reg reform Battle begins over Wall Street rules Business groups silent on Trump's Ex-Im 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 ReidDraft House bill ignites new Yucca Mountain fight Week ahead: House to revive Yucca Mountain fight Warren builds her brand with 2020 down the road 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.”