How to Give Vulnerable Democrats Cover on Guns

Yesterday, 16 Republicans voted along with the Democrats to break the filibuster against the Reid gun control bill (S.649).  Although Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn voted against it, they failed to whip against the vote, exerting no pressure on these wayward Republicans to put the brakes on this fast moving train wreck.  The end result is exactly what the Wall Street Journal editorial page advocated earlier this week: we will now have a debate on how much we are willing to limit the Second Amendment.


On Tuesday, the WSJ condescendingly chastised Senate conservatives for mounting a filibuster on the motion to proceed with debate.  They mockingly observed that “If conservatives want to prove their gun-control bona fides, the way to do it is to debate the merits and vote on the floor. They can always filibuster the final bill if they want to, but it makes no sense to paint themselves into a political box canyon before even knowing what they’re voting on.”

Moreover, they argued that by blocking debate on the bill, red state Democrats “don’t have to declare themselves on provisions that might be unpopular at home.”

Obviously, these novice observers of the legislative process have not been paying attention to the way the Senate has functioned in recent years.  The reason why Republicans need to filibuster even the motion to proceed on debate is precisely to leverage Reid into allowing a debate in the first place!  Reid has used a parliamentary procedure to “fill the amendment tree” and block all amendments that would embarrass his caucus.  To that end, the only recourse for Republicans is to filibuster the motion to proceed with debate, as a means of forcing him to allow amendments to go through.


Now that these Republicans, with the support of the dinosaur conservative intelligentsia, have handed over their one point of leverage, Harry Reid has once again taken full control of the amendment process in an effort to protect the vulnerable Democrats.  In fact, it is those 16 Republicans who afforded Reid the opportunity to hand out hall passes to Pryor and Begich yesterday to vote no on cloture.  They provided him with more than enough votes to break the filibuster without those two Democrats.  Now they can go home to their states (Arkansas and Alaska) and feign a more pro-gun posture than one-third of Republicans.

Now it will only get worse once “debate” commences next week.  Harry Reid knows that there is no chance of ever passing a sweeping gun banning bill.  He merely wants Republicans to break their consistency on the issue, and grant the overzealous ATF more power to begin stepping up gun stings and collecting more data.  Perforce, he will bring up Feinstein’s assault weapons ban knowing that it will never pass, only to offer Democrats like Kay Hagen (NC), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Donnelly (IN), Max Baucus (MT), and Claire McCaskill (MO) the opportunity to vote no and bolster their position at home.  They might also vote yes on some good Republican amendments with the knowledge that they won’t pass either.  This will give them the requisite cover to vote for the part of the bill Reid thinks will actually pass.


Enter Schumer’s Toomey-Manchin amendment.  Although it contains dangerous healthcare privacy concerns, statist regulations on transporting guns across state lines, and allows the ATF to collect more data from background checks, it doesn’t overtly ban guns.  All those vulnerable red-state Democrats will have enough cover to support it because they will vote the right way on all the straw men votes.

And that is just the Democrats.  What about the Republicans?  Yes, if every Republican were like Cruz/Lee/Paul, we could act on the advice of the Journal and vote for the MTP on every bill, with the full confidence that they will filibuster the final vote.   But that seldom happens in the Senate with this pack of flaccid Republicans.  Once the train gets rolling, Reid finds a way to get wayward Republicans to cut a “compromise” and oppose cloture on final passage as well.  That is how we got saddled with so many bad bills passing out of the Senate and pressuring the Republican House this year.  And in this case, the compromise is already on the table, brought to you by a “tea party” senator from Pennsylvania.

And what about the rock-ribbed, right-wing House?  Certainly they would never pass the bill, right?  Who knows.  With House leadership already violating the Hastert Rule four times this year, one never knows if they will try to avoid the media pressure and pass something with Democrat support.  Paul Ryan is already lending support to expanded background checks.


Yes, what could go wrong by allowing debate to proceed?

Cross-posted from The Madison Project          


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