Getting the gun debate started in earnest

Getting the gun debate started in earnest
Getting the gun debate started in earnest
Associated Press

Before anyone can speculate on the outcome of the legislative fight to reduce gun violence, there’s an initial hurdle to clear: the announced filibuster on the motion to proceed in the Senate. Increasingly, it appears that’s a fight Democrats will win.

As of yesterday, the number of Senate Republicans vowing to filibuster this initial step – effectively demanding unlimited debate on whether to have a debate – had quickly risen from 3 to 15. The fear among gun-safety advocates was that this would continue, and practically all Republicans would soon join the bandwagon, killing legislative reform efforts in their infancy.

But that’s not what’s happening. On the contrary, we’re seeing largely the opposite. Just this afternoon, Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) all said they intend to allow a debate on the gun legislation. They join Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), who’ve said the same thing.

I talked to a Senate Democratic source this morning who sounded optimistic, at least as far as the motion to proceed is concerned. Indeed, if there are 55 members of the Senate Democratic caucus, and five Republicans are already on record saying they will not support the filibuster, that’s 60. [Update: Kelly Ayotte, and Susan Collins would bring the total to 62].One Senate Dem, however, may throw a curveball.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), who is up for reelection in 2014, kept his options open Tuesday to filibuster debate on gun control legislation, even as numerous Republicans said they’ll vote to begin debate.

“I want to see what’s before the Senate. I don’t know what’s in the bill,” Baucus told reporters in the Capitol. “My primary focus is the people of Montana. They’re my employers.”

Pressed on whether he’ll allow the Senate to have the debate, Baucus said that’s “to be determined.”

It may not matter if a few more Senate Republicans – say, Susan Collins and Mark Kirk – also announce their opposition to their party’s first-step filibuster, but Baucus’ antics raise new doubts about the ultimate fate of the legislation.

And while that’s worth watching, all of this may be coming to a head very quickly.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is looking for some movement by this afternoon.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has given Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) until 5 p.m. Tuesday to reach a background checks deal with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), according to several sources close to the issue.

If there’s no agreement by that deadline, Reid will move to start debate over a gun-control package that is a wish list for gun-control advocates. But Republicans have already threatened to filibuster the bill, and it is unlikely to pass in its current form. If there is no deal and a filibuster is surmounted, votes could start as early as Thursday.

Some of the details of a possible Manchin/Toomey agreement remain elusive, but the gist of the plan would close the gun-show loophole, but leave a private-sales loophole intact.

Getting the gun debate started in earnest