Published March 15, 2013
“The politics of a lot of these issues are tough and members sometimes are scared about making the right decisions and they're particularly scared because they are subject to pressure from special interest groups and well-financed organizations that may be pushing in a different direction."
-- President Obama addressing donors to his permanent campaign group on Wednesday.
Taking umbrage at Ted Cruz has become a very “in” thing to do in Washington.
The junior senator from Texas has gotten the warm reception of a skunk at a garden party since taking office at the beginning of the year.
The latest umbrage Olympiad was the Thursday hearing on a gun ban bill before it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote. Cruz asked Sen. Diane Feinstein, the California Democrat and sponsor of the bill that mirrors 1994 legislation she also championed, if she thought other constitutional rights could be similarly infringed.
If the federal government could ban certain weapons, he asked, could it also ban certain books? Or could the federal government exclude certain people from Fourth Amendment search and seizure protections? His point was that the language in those other amendments was the same as the language in the second amendment.
Feinstein was flabbergasted at his lack of senatorial deference, scolding Cruz for “lecturing” her and talking about her knowledge of the deadly power of firearms. She did not answer the question but instead gave Cruz a dressing down.
Thus began a round robin of umbrage taking.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois scoffed at Cruz’s original question, observing that the government restricts pornography. (Of course, it does seem unlikely that today’s Supreme Court would uphold a federal law that identified specific publications or subjects--save those involving children).
Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee chairman, jumped in next, mocking Cruz’s home state for restrictive school reading lists, saying that such prudishness was something they would never do in his home state of Vermont. That’s not the same as the government banning books, but it does reinforce blue-state self-satisfaction about social permissiveness and general loathing of Texas.
After a good round of harrumphing, the committee moved on to pass the doomed legislation. Without the support of red-state Democrats and a few Republicans the bill will not pass, but Leahy, Durbin and Feinstein could know that they had stood on principle and denounced Cruz in the process.
Cruz gets some umbrage from his own party, notably Sen. John McCain who called him a “wacko bird.” But Cruz, being Hispanic, gets extra protection from the old guard in Washington since the leaders of his party are in a desperate dash for demographic outreach. Add to the fact that Cruz is already very popular with the GOP base, and you see how Cruz gets protected status in the GOP.
But for Democrats, he is probably target number one in Congress today. Yes it’s because he refuses to act like a back bencher, but it’s also for the issues on which he’s making his stands, especially guns.
Gun control is part of the big three issues for liberals today, the others being global warming and same-sex relations. With primary season 2014 and an open 2016 nominating process just around the corner, Democrats are eager to show that they care about the big three.
Vice President Joe Biden, perhaps the most accomplished gun control advocate in his party, has been pushing hard on the issue. He published a flurry of tweets in support of the Feinstein legislation as it headed to the full Senate for a ceremonial sinking. Biden has taken up the task of seeking a gun ban with real zeal.
This is a matter of conviction for Biden, no doubt, but like other gun ban backers, it’s also good primary politics. Possible 2016 contenders Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado have all gotten behind state-level gun bans. New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a possible presidential contender of some kind, is pushing his personal fortune behind primary challenges to pro-gun Democrats.
But the president himself, now beyond the grasp of primary voters, has been more muted on the subject of late. His permanent campaign organization lists gun control as a top concern, but the president has other business to attend to right now.
Feinstein has lamented a lack of presidential leadership on the subject and other liberals are starting to wonder whether Obama will do what Bill Clinton did 20 years ago and start spending his own political capital to get the controversial measure through Congress.
Obama’s implicit promise is that he can use his own well-funded special interest group to counter the other well-funded special interest groups pushing Congress to help deliver a gun ban, but not today.
Today, Obama is trying to break out of a politically damaging cycle of budget battles. The new wisdom in Obamaland seems to be that the president needs a spending and borrowing deal that will carry the federal government through the 2014 election cycle.
That means getting Democrats to yield on entitlement programs in an effort to entice Republicans into raising taxes again. Based on the two budget blueprints put forward in Congress this week, there’s a long way to go. And while Republicans remain open to tax changes if not increases, Democrats are fully shunning the question of entitlements.
So here is Obama, at last talking to Republicans, and there are Democrats, digging in their heels on entitlements and ramping up the pressure on gun control.
The president can achieve many liberal aims on global warming by jackhammering carbon-centric industries through the EPA. He is already doing his best on gay things, including a reversal of his previous position that states could ban same-sex marriage as seen in his administration’s effort to reverse California’s ban.
But guns are big right now and ambitious Democrats, including the vice president, are not going to be silent on the subject. It would help the president to get a budget deal before turning to social issues like guns and immigration.
But if Biden, Bloomberg, Feinstein and others keep shoving guns forward it will divide Democrats at a moment of much-needed unity. Obama’s promise of total victory after 2014 may not sound appealing to those on the left who have long been disappointed by Obama’s willingness to fight for their causes. If the president wants to try entitlement changes before he seeks a gun ban, those old fears will be quickly rekindled, burning up the needed capital on the left to get changes to Medicare, etc.
But if Obama were to get back in front of the gun ban movement, he won’t find as many moderate Democrats willing to stand with him on a budget deal.
Such is life of a lame duck. You’re trying to live for the moment while your party is living for the next election.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“Rubio will always refer to water, and Rand Paul will always refer to the filibuster.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.