Schumer steers Dems away from gun votes

Schumer steers Dems away from gun votes
© Camille Fine

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats' education agenda would jeopardize state-level success Overnight Health Care — Presented by the Association of American Medical Colleges — Trump officials move to expand non-ObamaCare health plans | 'Zero tolerance' policy stirs fears in health community | New ObamaCare repeal plan Selling government assets would be a responsible move in infrastructure deal MORE (N.Y.) is urging his colleagues to stay away from gun control in the budget debate despite pressure from activist groups that argue the party needs to take a stand given the string of mass shootings across the country.

Schumer, focused on next year’s midterm elections, thinks it is smarter to focus on economics — specifically President Trump’s tax plan, which Democrats say is a giveaway to corporations and the rich, and GOP proposals to cut Medicare and Medicaid.

The approach isn’t sitting well with everyone, given that the country experienced the deadliest mass shooting in modern history less than three weeks ago, when 58 people were killed by a single gunman who may have used bump stock devices that allowed him to fire more rounds per minute.

“Democrats need to find courage and learn to speak to the issue,” said Ladd Everitt, director of 1Pulse4America, a gun-violence prevention group created after the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016.

“There’s a lot of anger in this movement about the response from Democrats right now. People think it’s totally inadequate,” he added.   

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Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisDemocrats protest Trump's immigration policy from Senate floor Election Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral Fourth Senate Dem calls for Nielsen to resign over family separation policy MORE (D-Calif.) tweeted Wednesday night that the country should be talking about answers to gun violence. 

“The deadliest mass shooting in our country’s history was 16 days ago,” she wrote. “Conversations about gun violence have faded. We can’t accept that.”

In next year’s midterms, however, Democrats will be defending 10 seats in states won by Trump in last year’s election — including West Virginia, Montana and North Dakota, where guns are a big part of the local culture.

Schumer’s strategy is based, at least in part, on saving those seats and potentially winning back the Senate majority next year if Republicans falter badly.

As the Senate begins a debate Thursday on the budget, Schumer says he is urging his caucus to keep their amendments focused on health care and economics — not gun control.

“I would like and I am urging my caucus to limit it to four issues,” Schumer told reporters on Wednesday.

He specifically wants Democrats to bash the GOP proposal to cut the tax rate for the highest income bracket, oppose tax increases on middle-class earners, fight proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and insist that tax reform not add to the deficit.

“Those are the four issues we’d like to focus on instead of doing a long vote-a-rama on every other issue,” Schumer said.

While the strategy is a disappointment to advocates who rallied for gun control on the West Front of the Capitol Wednesday evening, others are backing Schumer’s approach.

“I see why he doesn’t want to go with it,” David Saunders, who has advised former Democratic presidential candidates Jim Webb and John Edwards, said of Schumer’s avoidance of the gun control measures.

“He’s one of the few people up there who can count,” he joked.

Saunders warned that even though polls might show that various gun control proposals have strong support, the minority of people who oppose them often wield more political clout because they are more motivated.

“The 28 percent that don’t want it are single-issue voters and that’s why the gun numbers are so deceiving for people,” he said.

Saunders said many of those single-issue voters live in some of the Senate swing states that will determine which party controls the upper chamber in the future.

Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillSenate moderates hunt for compromise on family separation bill Election Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral Hillicon Valley: Verizon, AT&T call off data partnerships after pressure | Tech speaks out against Trump family separation policy | T-Mobile, Sprint make case for B merger MORE is up, too. She’s as vulnerable as anybody,” Saunders said, referring to the Missouri Democrat, a top GOP target in the Senate in next year’s midterms.

Jason Kander, the Democrat who challenged Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border Ernst, Fischer to square off for leadership post Facebook gives 500 pages of answers to lawmakers' data privacy questions MORE (R), McCaskill’s home-state colleague, in 2016, touted his comfort with firearms in a television ad that showed him assembling an assault rifle blindfolded.

Kander, an Army National Guard veteran, also supported expanded background checks and tried to argue that didn’t mean he was soft on the Second Amendment, which establishes the right to keep and bear arms. He still lost the race to Blunt, who voted against expanded FBI background checks for gun purchases in 2016.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Health Care — Presented by the Association of American Medical Colleges — Governors criticize Trump move on pre-existing conditions Bipartisan group of senators asks FDA to examine drug shortages Trump faces Father’s Day pleas to end separations of migrant families MORE (Conn.), a leading Democratic voice on gun control issues, said Wednesday he will draft some gun-violence related amendments but was undecided about whether to ask for votes on them during a vote-a-rama.

“I’m drafting a variety of amendments. Some of them have to do with gun policy. I don’t know whether I will eventually call them,” he said.

Murphy, however, said he was not trying to protect Democrats facing tough races in Republican-leaning states next year.

“I would only put things on the floor that have the broad support of the caucus,” he said. “This budget is so toxic on its own terms I think there’s a question about whether you want to take the focus away from this terrible [budget] vote they’re about to cast.”

Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichCNN congressional correspondent talks about her early love of trolls and family Overnight Energy: DNC to reject fossil fuel donations | Regulators see no security risk in coal plant closures | Senate committee rejects Trump EPA, Interior budgets Energy commission sees no national security risk from coal plant closures MORE (N.M.), who supports restricting high-capacity magazines, says he wants to work on finding Republican co-sponsors for legislation before forcing the issue to the floor.

“On a budget vote-a-rama I think we’re going to be focused on the fundamentals, the fact that this budget cuts Medicare, Medicaid and raises taxes on the working poor,” he said.

“That’s going to be our focus,” he added.

Heinrich said he’s “not interested in messaging” on gun control because Democrats “need some bipartisan support on the other side to actually legislate some solutions to this gun violence.”