Published March 20, 2013
“I made my argument, but that's the way [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid] feels. He just said, ‘I've decided.’”
-- Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., talking to reporters about Reid’s decision to scuttle her gun-ban legislation.
As President Obama prepared to set off on his Middle East tour, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid delivered one heck of a bon voyage present, declaring dead the Obama-backed proposal for a ban on certain guns.
Reid said that he was bowing to political reality, saying that the legislation crafted by Sen. Diane Feinstein and passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee could barely garner 40 votes, even though Democrats count 55 in their caucus.
It would be a big slap to Obama if Reid is pulling the plug on the measure so soon and not giving the president time to try to rally support for the legislation in the Senate. Obama has made the plan a centerpiece of his second-term agenda and his team was hoping to at least force Republicans in the Senate and House to vote against the measure.
Obama spoke movingly of how December mass killings in Connecticut had driven him to make gun control, mostly overlooked in his campaigns and first term, a passionate cause in his second term. For Reid to spike that same bill without Obama’s say so would be serious effrontery.
Or did Reid consult with Obama and the president did not object?
To get the original ban on what gun control supporters call “assault weapons,” mostly regular rifles kitted out to look like military weapons, former President Bill Clinton had to push, prod, beg, plead, wheedle and pressure members of his party to get the deal done. Though it would prove costly in Midterm elections, the Clinton-era gun ban was a triumph of presidential arm-twisting.
That’s the kind of effort that liberals were hoping to see from Obama this time, and after his lofty rhetoric on gun control and expansive promises on the subject in the wake of the Newtown school shooting there was reason to think that the president might take on the task. It’s something we’ve never seen from Obama, who mostly avoids direct engagement on legislation, but he and the White House said the shootings had changed him.
Reid will instead bring forward two small bits of legislation with bipartisan support. One expands Justice Department grants for school safety and the other creates new criminal penalties for gun trafficking. Reid may also bring out a bill on expanding background checks for firearms purchases, but that is dangling now over gun rights advocates’ concerns regarding the creation of a federal firearms registry.
The majority leader also promises that proposals to ban those mock military weapons and large-capacity magazines will be allowed as amendments to the non-controversial legislation. But even that defeats Obama’s stated plan of pumping up the pressure on Republicans.
If, as Reid says, some 15 members of his caucus are opposed to the measures, not only will the bans never reach the House but it seems unlikely that Democrats will be able to make much political use against Republican incumbents of a vote on amendments that more than a quarter of the Democratic caucus opposed.
It’s understandable that Reid, knowing that the vulnerable incumbents on the blue team for 2014 hail from mostly red states where gun control is unpopular and being mostly in the good graces of the NRA himself, would not like to see the fight over the legislation drag on.
But what about Obama?
Gun-control activists are furious at Reid for dropping the legislation so swiftly and letting moderate Democrats off the hook. That’s not a big deal for him since those folks have never much liked him and he hails from a gun-rights state.
But again, what about Obama?
Either Reid ignored the president’s tearful pleas after the shooting, thereby declaring Obama a lame duck who can’t control his own party in Congress or Reid spiked the legislation in consultation with Obama.
The president said he would use “whatever power [his] office holds” in the effort. But if Obama did not mount a goal-line stand for the legislation and apply his powers of persuasion to the cause he was either denied the opportunity by a rebellious Senate majority leader or opted to give up himself.
Neither outcome bodes well for his political clout heading into a long spring and summer of battles with House Republicans.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“The problem is for Americans the sacrifice was huge and tragic, and the strategic advantage which we hoped to gain -- to have something of an ally in Iraq -- I think was squandered at the end of the surge.”
-- 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.