Reporting by Chad Pergram
It’s now more than two weeks since the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. And despite a lot of chatter on Capitol Hill, it will be at least four weeks - if not much longer - before Congress considers ANY gun legislation. That’s because the Senate leadership can’t forge an agreement on bringing up ANY bill next week. The Senate’s now adjourned for the week and plans to tackle a host of confirmation starting Monday.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) objected Monday to bringing up the background checks bill. Some Democrats and many Republicans want to do more than just background checks…but no one is completely sure if they can EVER reach a deal and call up any bill.
Of course, both houses of Congress have gone down this road before. Think Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Newtown, Charleston, San Bernardino, Orlando….
Lawmakers of both parties have professed that things were “different” after each of those episodes.
The question is just how seismic was the attack at Parkland? Did the tectonic political plates REALLY shift to the point that the Senate can start debate on a bill? Or are each of these events simply fissures? While they may SEEM like major events, the political “Big One” hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps there truly hasn’t been a political San Andreas fault yet forcing change – even though each mass shooting has seemed that way to some lawmakers.
A number of Senate Republicans tell Fox that their conference is divided on what to do..if anything at all. Fox is told there is one wing of Republicans which just wants to do “something” because they are afraid they will get torched politically. Another group of Republicans frets about getting on the wrong side of the NRA and conservatives. Consider Senate GOP primaries coming up. It would be easy for some Republicans to vote for a gun plan which, heretofore, flies in the face of conventional GOP orthodoxy on firearms, and then face a beat-down in their primary. Consider how GOP Senate hopeful Danny Tarkanian could deploy this issue against Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) or Chris McDaniel against Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS).
Some Republicans are privately apoplectic about some of the things the President said about guns at the Wednesday White House meeting.
“It did more harm than good,” said one Republican Congressional source. “If (President) Obama would have said what (President) Trump said about guns, there would be riots in the streets.”
The point being, right-wing activists warned for years that Obama/Pelosi/Schumer/Hillary Clinton were coming to “get” people’s guns. The sale of firearms and ammo skyrocketed. And then, at the White House meeting, President Trump DID say he would “get” some people’s guns under given circumstances.
The President’s statement on this topic alone is freaking out Congressional Republicans.
“We’re in a really bad place on this,” said one Republican senator who asked that they not be identified. “We can’t do anything.”
There is also risk for Democrats.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today introduced a three-point plan on guns. One component of Schumer’s scheme includes a debate on assault weapons. But this path is perilous. A number of vulnerable Senate Democrats face competitive races this year in swing states or in territory where President Trump is popular. Taking a tough vote on guns could put those Democrats in a tough spot.
“He’s stupid,” said one such Democratic senator with a challenging race this fall when asked about Schumer’s gambit.
So, what is the fallback?
Don’t forget that President Trump says he wants a bunch of proposals in a solitary gargantuan, comprehensive bill.
That rarely works in Washington.
Enter the “Goldilocks” factor. Getting the bill “not too hot, not too cold, but just right.”
Legislation is all about “sweeteners” and “poison pills.” Add precisely the right sweeteners and something may pass. Add the wrong ingredient, and you have a poison pill which siphons votes from the legislation.
There is talk that perhaps the House and Senate can just tackle enhanced background checks. Well, the House attached the enhanced background checks provision as a “sweetener” to a gun measure last year. The base bill would permit reciprocity for concealed carry permits across state lines – a priority of the NRA. The House approved the package and sent it to the Senate.
Concealed carry reciprocity across state lines won’t command 60 yeas in the Senate. So, the natural inclination would be to strip out that provision. Does the bill then automatically get 60 yeas? Unclear. Why? Democrats may demand the Senate do MORE on guns than just background checks.
Let’s say the Senate does approve a scaled down background checks measure, sans concealed carry reciprocity, and, zaps the measure back to the House to sync up. The Freedom Caucus and other conservatives would likely bolt and vote no because leaders extracted concealed carry reciprocity. Under conventional circumstances, Democrats could make up the difference created by the Republican defectors and vote yes for background checks. However, there’s a problem. Democrats COULD oppose the measure in the House because they would demand the House do MORE on guns than just background checks. They may struggle to get to 218 yeas.
So, despite all the sturm and drang about guns here on Capitol Hill, this debate is really going nowhere anytime soon unless something radical changes soon.