Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Perhaps this was bound to happen. As soon as Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) introduced the new Assault Weapons Ban, DC pundits were already declaring it dead. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) stayed eerily mum.

Earlier today, Harry Reid admitted to (again) omitting the Assault Weapons Ban from his omnibus gun safety bill. And he claimed he had to do in order to pass the bill. There's just a problem with Reid's latest claim. Can you notice it?

“We cannot have votes on everything unless I get something on the floor. It’s a legislative impossibility,” he said. “I’m not going to try to put something on the floor that won’t succeed; I want something that will succeed. I think the worst of all worlds would be to bring something to the floor and it dies there.”

While the looming failure of an assault weapons ban has been obvious for some time, there’s been no apparent progress on mandatory background checks since it lost steam earlier this month, when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) quit bipartisan talks with Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Joe Manchin (D-WV). Democratic leaders are wary of bringing such a proposal up for a vote unless more Republicans sign on.

When TPM asked Reid if background checks would be in the final bill, he was circumspect.

“I am working to put something together that I can get 60 votes to put a bill on the floor,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to do that. There are a couple of different background check proposals floating around. Manchin and Kirk are working on one. Schumer’s working on one. I don’t know who else is working on a bill.”

Manchin says he’s courting Republican support. But it’s hard to find. Given the popularity of background checks, Republican senators don’t want to go on record opposing the idea and would seemingly rather let it die by default.

Asked separately Tuesday if they would consider supporting gun background checks, Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and John McCain (R-AZ) each dodged.

Earlier this month, Republicans were even backing away from expanded background checks. And the NRAhas declared any and all gun safety reform legislation as "assault on freedom". Does anyone think shunning the Assault Weapons Ban can suddenly improve odds for gun safety reform?

Salon's Joan Walsh isn't having any of it. She reminds us of Dianne Feinstein's own history with gun violence, and of the kind of power the gun lobby still has in Washington.

Clearly Reid cares more about red-state Democrats beholden to the gun lobby than he does about gun safety. Remember, this is the same NRA-backed Reid who put an amendment in the Affordable Care Act declaring that wellness and prevention efforts should not collect or disseminate information about whether patients had guns in their home.

Feinstein has had some of her finest moments on gun safety issues, most recently dressing down the insufferable Ted Cruz, who lectured her on why an assault weapons ban is unconstitutional. “I am not a sixth grader,” Feinstein told the arrogant mansplainer. “Congress is in the business of making the law. The Supreme Court interprets the law. If they strike down the law, they strike down the law.”

As a San Francisco County supervisor in 1978, Feinstein found the body of Harvey Milk after he and Mayor George Moscone were shot by Dan White. In 1994 she successfully pushed for an assault weapons ban after a massacre at a San Francisco high-rise killed nine people and injured six. “I’ve worked 40 years on these issues —guns. I’ve seen so much violence,” a shaken Feinstein told reporters today.

Compromise-oriented Democrats say dropping the ban gives a gun-control package far more chance of passing. At the Plum Line, Greg Sargent argues that the ban was a bargaining chip on the way to a push for universal background checks. But background check legislation passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the exact same 10-8 party-line vote as the assault weapons ban. Sen. Chuck Schumer talks optimistically about finding GOP partners, but early discussions with Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn fell apart, and there are currently no Republican senators on record supporting background checks, either. Talking to TPM, Reid refused to commit to putting background checks in the bill, either. “I am working to put something together that I can get 60 votes to put a bill on the floor,” he said.

We could ultimately wind up with Democrat-sponsored legislation that merely toughens penalties for so-called straw man gun purchases and beefs up school safety. That would be a shame. For a while it felt like the outrage over Newtown would be more transformative than that inspired by other gun carnage. But it seems NRA lobbyist Bob Welch was right when he said the organization would prevail once “the Connecticut effect” passed.

On one hand, I can see Harry Reid's logic. How can a bill reach 60 votes when it has a thorny provision that can't even reach 49 votes? Sometimes, one must compromise in order to get anything done.

However, there's a flip side to this. The NRA & "tea party" refuse to budge on even background checks. And they're pressuring even Republicans who were initially open to some kind of gun safety reform to oppose anything and everything. Is it worth Democrats dropping a key priority for President Obama and progressives to pursue passage of some bill, any kind of bill?

At this point, Reid can't even guarantee expansion of background checks in his final gun safety bill. Come on now, this is the provision that regularly polls near 90% support! Even the Assault Weapons Ban has broad support. And somehow, Congress possibly can't pass either, let alone both?

And then, of course, there's the actual policy FAIL here. When did it become more important to protect gun manufacturers' profits than the lives of our own people? Think about that. And the chatter on Capitol Hill starts to sound even more absurd. This is the true EPIC FAIL of what happened today.

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