Democratic senators seen as possible contenders for the White House in 2020 are all taking positions in strong support of an assault weapons ban, pressuring their colleagues up for reelection this year.
Though the positioning may not effect the prospects of legislation, its support by all of the 2020 would-be candidates puts lawmakers like Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampProgressives prepare to launch counterattack in tax fight Business groups aim to divide Democrats on .5T spending bill On The Money: Powell signals Fed will soon cut stimulus MORE (N.D.) in a tough spot months before the November midterm elections.
“This is where the real conflict is,” one top Democratic strategist concluded. “There isn’t really space for an anti-gun candidate in the party and yet there are senators who have a tough balancing act for sure.”
Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist, added: “The reason for the tension within the party is pretty obvious. Democrats have no choice but to press this issue. With 69 percent in favor of a complete ban, they’re on the right side of public opinion on the issue … For the 2020 Dems, a ban on assault weapons is a no-brainer.”
No Democrat running for the White House wants to be outflanked from the left on guns.
During the 2016 Democratic primary, for example, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonAttorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation Durham seeking indictment of lawyer with ties to Democrats: reports Paul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book MORE slammed rival Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBriahna Joy Gray: Push toward major social spending amid pandemic was 'short-lived' Sanders 'disappointed' in House panel's vote on drug prices Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants MORE (I-Vt.) for not being strong enough on gun control.
“No one wants to be the lightweight when it comes to guns and particularly an assault weapons ban,” the strategist said. “They all want to be seen as the ones who really rushed to the forefront and pushed this issue when it really mattered.”
All of the prospective 2020 Democratic candidates in the upper chamber — Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenFederal Reserve officials' stock trading sparks ethics review Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack MORE (Mass.) Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandHochul tells Facebook to 'clean up the act' on abortion misinformation after Texas law Democratic senators request probe into Amazon's treatment of pregnant employees The FBI comes up empty-handed in its search for a Jan. 6 plot MORE (N.Y.) Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisStefanik in ad says Democrats want 'permanent election insurrection' Live coverage: California voters to decide Newsom's fate Florida woman faces five years in prison for threatening to kill Harris MORE (Calif.), Cory BookerCory BookerDOJ announces agencywide limits on chokeholds and no-knock entries Fighting poverty, the Biden way Top Senate Democrats urge Biden to take immediate action on home confinement program MORE (N.J.), Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHarris, CBC put weight behind activist-led National Black Voter Day Seven takeaways from California's recall election Live coverage: California voters to decide Newsom's fate MORE (Minn.) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyTell our troops: 'Your sacrifice wasn't in vain' Sunday shows preview: Bombing in Kabul delivers blow to evacuation effort; US orders strikes on ISIS-K White House seeks to regain control on Afghanistan MORE (Conn.) are all co-sponsors of Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinF-35 fighter jets may fall behind adversaries, House committee warns Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack Democrat rips Justice for not appearing at US gymnastics hearing MORE’s (Calif.) legislation to ban assault weapons. Sanders has also said he favors banning assault weapons.
“These weapons are not for hunting,” he said. “They’re for killing human beings.”
Support for the ban on assault weapons has grown among Democrats over the last 11 years. In 2007, 67 Democrats supported a ban. That number continued to grow in 2013 with 83 Democrats co-sponsoring legislation. The number grew to 149 in 2015 before settling on 167 co-sponsors this year.
As Democrats call for assault weapons to be banned, President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE is also showing signs of movement.
This week, Trump — sitting beside Feinstein — signaled that he might be willing to include parts of her assault weapons legislation as part of a bipartisan deal.
Sitting across from them was Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinBriahna Joy Gray: Push toward major social spending amid pandemic was 'short-lived' Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels Biden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week MORE (W.Va.) the Democrat who refuses to support a ban on assault weapons. (“I don’t know anyone who’s committed a crime with it,” Manchin said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe this week.)
“Joe, are you ready?” a visibly excited Feinstein asked the West Virginia Senator after Trump made his remarks.
Manchin spearheaded aggressive background checks legislation in 2013 in partnership with Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyBlack women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote MORE (R-Pa.), but faces a potentially tough reelection race this year in a state where Trump cruised to victory in 2016.
Manchin told Feinstein he was at least willing to consider some of her proposal.
“Can you do that? Joe, can you do that?” Trump asked.
But there is still a divide on the issue in the Democratic caucus, one that has lingered since a vote on an assault weapons ban failed 40-60 in the Senate in 2013, a few months after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Sixteen Democrats, including Heitkamp, Manchin and Sens. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetConservation group says it will only endorse Democrats who support .5T spending plan Lawmakers can't reconcile weakening the SALT cap with progressive goals How Sen. Graham can help fix the labor shortage with commonsense immigration reform MORE (Colo.), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Senate backers of new voting rights bill push for swift passage The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Polls open in California as Newsom fights for job MORE (Mont.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sanders traveling to Iowa, Indiana to pitch Biden's spending package Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda MORE (Ind.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOvernight Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Schneider Electric — Deadly Ida floodwaters grip southeast US David Sirota: Seven Democrats who voted against fracking ban trying to secure future elections Deadly extreme heat has arrived: here's how policymakers can save lives MORE (N.M.) and Tom UdallTom UdallOvernight Defense: Milley reportedly warned Trump against Iran strikes | Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer killed in Afghanistan | 70 percent of active-duty military at least partially vaccinated Biden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Senate Democrats befuddled by Joe Manchin MORE (N.M.), as well as independent Sen. Angus KingAngus KingSenate backers of new voting rights bill push for swift passage Stacey Abrams backs Senate Democrats' voting rights compromise NY Democrat tests positive for COVID-19 in latest House breakthrough case MORE (Maine), voted “no.”
Asked about her 2013 vote on Thursday, Heitkamp said she thought the legislation was “overly broad.”
“It included banning semi-automatics, and I actually don't think the assault weapons ban would accomplish much,” Heitkamp told The Weekly Standard.
Democrats acknowledged the awkward divide within the party. But internal pressure aside, Bannon said the 2018 candidates can explain the daylight between their position and their Senate colleagues who may run in 2020.
“If I were a senator like Heitkamp or Manchin, I’d use this internal fight to show that they’re not being held captive by the national Democratic party. I’d use it as a tool to stake out their own independence."
“Even though there’s tension with their colleagues, if they’re smart enough they’ll use it to their advantage,” Bannon said. “Both sides could win.”