McConnell quashes Senate effort on guns

McConnell quashes Senate effort on guns
© Greg Nash

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: 'It never occurred to me' convincing Americans to get vaccinated would be difficult The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal 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 Margaret CollinsThe 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Gyms, hotels, bus companies make last-ditch plea for aid 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 JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGrassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa Sunday shows preview: Bipartisan infrastructure talks drag on; Democrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe Democrats question GOP shift on vaccines 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 Sidney McCainMeghan McCain on Pelosi, McCarthy fight: 'I think they're all bad' Democrats seek to counter GOP attacks on gas prices Biden nominates Jeff Flake as ambassador to Turkey MORE (Ariz.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanThe 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Trump slams Romney, Senate GOP over infrastructure deal MORE (Ohio), Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrThe 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Senators say they have deal on 'major issues' in infrastructure talks MORE (N.C.), Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThe 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Eight Republicans join Democrats to confirm head of DOJ environmental division MORE (Mo.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDemocrats join GOP in pressuring Biden over China, virus origins Senators introduce bipartisan bill to expand foreign aid partnerships GOP lawmakers request Cuba meeting with Biden 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 FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots 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 Ann AyottePoll: Potential Sununu-Hassan matchup in N.H. a dead heat  Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal Sununu seen as top recruit in GOP bid to reclaim Senate MORE (R-N.H.), a vulnerable incumbent, and centrist Democratic Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampJoe Manchin's secret Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda Effective and profitable climate solutions are within the nation's farms and forests 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 Mason ReidWhite House seeks to shield Biden from GOP attacks on crime issue Lobbying world Warner backing 'small carve-out' on filibuster for voting rights 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.”