Wind shifts in gun control debate

Wind shifts in gun control debate

The Senate gun bill that seemed dead a week ago has gathered strong momentum as cracks have emerged in the Republican unity against it.

The shift in the political winds has been dramatic, and could help pass the most far-reaching gun control bill in nearly two decades.

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A couple weeks ago, Democrats did not appear to have the votes to bring a gun violence bill to the floor over the objections of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump's plan to claw back spending hits wall in Congress GOP lawmakers want Trump to stop bashing Congress Parkland father calls out Trump, McConnell, Ryan after Santa Fe shooting MORE (Ky.).

Two Republicans, Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump's plan to claw back spending hits wall in Congress Defense bill moves forward with lawmakers thinking about McCain How House Republicans scrambled the Russia probe MORE (Ariz.), broke the impasse by bucking their leadership.

A senior Democratic aide said a pivotal moment came on April 7 when McCain chastised his Republican colleagues in a CBS interview for threatening to block the gun bill from coming up for debate.



“The dam broke when McCain went on ‘Face the Nation,’ ” the aide said.           


Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidMcConnell not yet ready to change rules for Trump nominees The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by CVS Health — Trump’s love-hate relationship with the Senate Trump to press GOP on changing Senate rules MORE (D-Nev.), who has not been shy in criticizing McCain over the years, last week praised the Arizona Republican after the gun bill cleared a major procedural hurdle.

Earlier this month, McConnell and more than a dozen other GOP senators, including Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioCongress — when considering women’s health, don’t forget about lung cancer Anti-Maduro Venezuelans not unlike anti-Castro Cubans of yore Tax reform postmortem reveals lethal dose of crony capitalism MORE (Fla.), vowed to filibuster the motion to proceed to the gun bill. At the time, it looked like gun control was slowly dying in the upper chamber.

But the tide turned when Toomey — who has an A rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA) — announced at a press conference with Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump to hold Nashville rally amid efforts to boost GOP Senate hopeful Voters Dems need aren't impressed by anti-waterboarding showboating Overnight Finance: House rejects farm bill in conservative revolt | NAFTA deal remains elusive as talks drag on | Dodd-Frank rollback set for House vote MORE (D-W.Va.) that they had struck a deal to expand background checks to cover all sales at gun shows and over the Internet.

“I don’t consider criminal background checks to be gun control. I think it’s just common sense,” Toomey said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said the prospects for gun legislation looked bleak at the start of last week.

“Days ago nobody thought we could move forward and we’re moving forward and I’m very, very hopeful about [this] week,” he said.

Democratic lawmakers said the families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims, who flew to Washington with President Obama aboard Air Force One last week, have had a big impact. That White House decision, coupled with Obama’s use of the bully pulpit, helped change the dynamic.

Sixteen Republicans voted Thursday to begin debate on the gun violence package, even though Reid and McConnell had yet to reach an agreement on which amendments would be considered.

“I’m very optimistic,” said Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Trump hits federally funded clinics with new abortion restrictions Dem senators ask drug companies to list prices in ads Gillibrand to publish children's book about suffragists MORE (D-N.Y.), who co-authored legislation to crack down on the illegal trafficking of firearms, which has been included in the base bill. “I think it matters that the families of the victims from Connecticut came to Washington.”

Gun-control advocates have also been helped by CNN’s and MSNBC’s reporting on an al Qaeda propaganda video in which a spokesman for the terrorist group urges potential jihadists to buy assault weapons at gun shows where background checks are not required for non-licensed sellers. Conservatives argue the video is misleading because the spokesman claims fully automatic weapons can be purchased, which is not true. Military-style semi-automatic firearms are legal since the gun ban Congress passed expired in 2004.

Democrats and Republicans alike say the gun violence package still faces a tortuous path to Senate passage and dimmer prospects in the GOP-led House.

“I think it would be very difficult, but I don’t know for sure,” said Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by CVS Health - A pivotal day for House Republicans on immigration GOP, Dem lawmakers come together for McCain documentary Not only do we need to support veterans, but their caregivers, too MORE (Ga.), one of the Republicans who voted to begin debate on the bill, when asked about its prospects for success.

The NRA, one of the most powerful interest groups in Washington, says it will score lawmakers for their votes on the Toomey-Manchin proposal to allow the broader package to move to a final vote. It remains to be seen if Toomey-Manchin will attract the necessary 60 votes. There are 55 senators who caucus with the Democrats, though a few from red states might defect. Sens. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkThis week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill Trump attending Senate GOP lunch Tuesday High stakes as Trump heads to Hill MORE (Ill.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump's plan to claw back spending hits wall in Congress Dem rep to launch discharge petition to force net neutrality vote in House Hillicon Valley: Senate votes to save net neutrality | Senate panel breaks with House, says Russia favored Trump in 2016 | Latest from Cambridge Analytica whistleblower | Lawmakers push back on helping Chinese tech giant MORE (Maine) are the only other Republicans who have publicly backed the measure.

Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, called the Toomey-Manchin deal “misguided” and warned the expansion of background checks would criminalize the private transfer of firearms by making the failure to comply with stricter regulations a felony.

Republican strategists acknowledge polls show the public favors expanded background checks by a 9-to-1 margin and that more people are paying attention to gun control.

“There’s no question that there’s been enormously greater attention to gun issues as a result of the horrible massacre, but I’m not convinced the fundamentals of politics have changed on this issue,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster. “Intensity matters in politics and on no issue is intensity more important than on guns.”

Republicans have been slow to follow Toomey’s lead. But the deal appears to have given cover to at least some politically vulnerable Democrats.

“This plan represents a common sense solution reached by two of my colleagues —one a Democrat, one a Republican — and I plan to support the bipartisan proposal,” said Sen. Kay HaganKay Ruthven Hagan2020 Dems compete for top campaign operatives Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Politics is purple in North Carolina MORE (D-N.C.), who is up for reelection next year.

For the first time, the NRA is being matched by equally well-funded opponents: Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Independence USA PAC, groups backed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire who has made gun control his top national priority.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns spent $12 million on a lobbying campaign to pressure lawmakers over the Easter recess and director Mark Glaze says “we will spend as necessary.” The group planned 80 events in target states over the weekend.

Reid is negotiating with McConnell to set up a vote on Toomey-Manchin and other amendments early this week.

Expanded background checks are the heart of Obama’s gun control agenda. Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer: GOP efforts to identify FBI informant 'close to crossing a legal line' Patients deserve the 'right to try' How the embassy move widens the partisan divide over Israel MORE (D-N.Y.) called them the “sweet spot” of the issue.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinCongress — when considering women’s health, don’t forget about lung cancer Overnight Energy: Pruitt taps man behind 'lock her up' chant for EPA office | Watchdog to review EPA email policies | Three Republicans join climate caucus Man who coined 'lock her up' chant to lead EPA's Pacific Southwest office MORE (D-Calif.) thinks the political landscape for gun control has changed in recent days: “The trend line, in terms of people’s concern, is increasing.”

Former Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.), who pushed gun control bills when he served in the House, said, “The only argument is the camel’s nose under the tent, that this is the first step to banning guns or confiscating guns. You can’t vote based on that argument because then you’re not going to vote for anything.”