Published March 25, 2013
“When he gets Democrats in line, we’ll start worrying about the president’s threats.”
-- Senior House Republican leadership aide talking to Power Play.
President Obama is heading back out on the campaign trail, this time in a bid for gun-control measures. But that could mean a lot of things.
In an advance announcement of the presidential campaign swing to Buzzfeed, a White House staffer told the news outlet that the campaign swing would be in support of his call that measures banning guns “deserve a vote.”
But the gun ban will certainly get a vote. Reid has promised that the measure crafted by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., would be offered as an amendment when he rolls out the package after the Easter recess.
What the measure needs is not support in the abstract, but actual presidential clout. Reid says that the measure is some 20 votes short of passage, meaning that some 15 Senate Democrats are bucking the president.
Obama seems unlikely to do what is required to win Senate passage of such a measure, namely to pressure vulnerable Democrats to switch their votes and take a politically risky stance ahead of Midterm elections. There’s no credible threat to Republicans with Democrats so deeply divided on the issue.
Liberals were furious when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spiked the most aggressive gun control bill, and given the muted reaction from the White House, one assumes that Reid at least consulted the president before deep sixing an important presidential priority.
Obama is looking to regain momentum on the subject, but if his campaign tour is going to be an ode to the merits of the legislative process, the suspicions that the president is not willing to sacrifice his own political capital on behalf of this cherished liberal cause will only deepen.
With Democrats already admitting defeat on an actual gun ban, the debate has shifted to background checks. Here again the question remains: what does Obama really want?
There will be multiple measures on offer in the Senate that could be called an expansion of background checks. One version backed by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., would require background checks on every gun purchase, even between individuals, and create a federal registry to track the purchases.
This bill looks unlikely to pass the Senate, let alone the Republican House. It might do better in the Senate than the gun ban, but not much. Not only would the legislation not have done anything to have prevented the shooting that spurred the current gun control push, the massacre in Newtown, Conn., or other recent mass shootings, but it sets off concerns about the registry being the basis for further future restrictions.
At the other end of the spectrum, the National Rifle Association is working up legislation that would integrate mental health records into the current background check system. The group is reportedly in negotiations with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., about bringing forward a bill that would compete with Schumer’s plan.
That legislation wouldn’t have prevented the Connecticut killings since the shooter there did not purchase his weapons. But in other mass shootings, particularly in Aurora, Colo. and Blacksburg, Va., such a system might have deterred killers, or at least complicated their plans.
While Senators go back and forth over what constitutes “expanded background checks,” gun control groups, particularly the crusade by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will be demanding an actual gun ban. The greatest effect here will be to panic lawmakers from heavily Democratic districts afraid of primary challengers on this hot-button issue for the left.
Obama, who has been seemingly allergic to the process of crafting difficult legislative deals since even his days in the Illinois Senate, will be heading out on the trail with Democrats divided, thereby taking the heat off of Republicans on the subject of gun control.
The president has promised to do everything in his power to prevent further mass shootings. This apparently does not include forging some Democratic consensus on the subject. He may choose to call an “up or down vote” on doomed legislation a victory, but that would be setting the bar awfully low.
Meanwhile, the president is also promising to ramp up the pressure for fast-track amnesty for illegal immigrants. And while someone in his administration leaked portions of the president’s plan, it’s not clear exactly what the president will be selling there either.
The Senate budget process last week highlighted the deepening rifts on the Blue Team over basic issues. And here again, we have yet to see Obama’s budget, apparently delayed for the sake of avoiding a more specific embarrassment during the Senate voting process. Republicans may eventually force a vote on the president’s eventual budget, but he was able to duck last week’s budget vote-a-thons.
Polls show deepening voter frustrations on the issues of fiscal policy and the economy, dealing a blow to Obama’s approval ratings.
Obama’s real priority is a deal on a fiscal plan that will encourage the economy and get him out of a place where his team has to explain why Vice President Joe Biden’s room-service tabs and a Yale study of mallard genitalia take precedence over White House tours and other federal expenses.
That deal will take months to accomplish, and when it’s done, it will only be about a year until the next Election Day. Democrats face disaster next year if Washington remains unable to accomplish even basic tasks. An anti-incumbent wave could mean the end of the Democratic majority in the Senate.
Obama promised to use his permanent campaign arm and the presidential bully pulpit to break down his Republican opponents and advance liberal causes. But he seems to be flinching at the idea of his audacious second-term strategy as the time comes to put it into practice.
Unless Obama is willing to sell actual legislation and policies rather than abstractions, starting first with squeezing moderate Democrats on social issues and liberal Democrats on fiscal ones, Obama 2.0 will likely end up like Obama 1.0: in need of a reboot.
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.