Under our system of government, federal lawmakers approve legislation by majority rule with only a handful of exceptions. Filibuster abuses notwithstanding, supermajorities are only required for treaties, impeachment, expulsions, constitutional amendments, and veto overrides. For everything else, bills and nominations pass with regular ol’ majorities.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has an idea to change that. Late last week, while senators were considering a lengthy list of budget amendments, the far-right senator pushed a measure to require two-thirds majorities for any legislation that would limit gun purchases in any way. Note, in the Senate, it takes 60 votes to overcome Republican filibusters, but under Lee’s plan, it would take 67 votes to approve literally any bill intended to reduce gun violence.
As the Gun Owners of America told its members on Friday, the “practical effect” of Lee’s amendment is to ensure “that gun control can never again pass the Senate.”
And here’s the kicker: on Saturday morning, Lee’s amendment got 50 votes.
Senators voted 50-49 in favor of an amendment by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to establish a two-thirds requirement for the passage of any gun control legislation in their chamber. While the budget resolution is nonbinding and the amendment did not win the 60 votes needed to be adopted, the outcome underscores how many senators strongly support gun rights, just as the chamber prepares to debate the biggest package of gun control measures in nearly two decades.
Looking over the roll call, note that 44 out of 45 Republican senators supported the measure, as did six “red”-state Democrats: Max Baucus (Mont.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), and Mark Pryor (Ark.). The lone Republican to oppose the amendment was Illinois’ Mark Kirk.
The point, of course, is the striking reminder of just how difficult it is to overcome reflexive conservative opposition to preventing gun violence. Not to put too fine a point on it, Lee’s amendment, though non-binding, was ridiculous, and the fact that 50 senators voted for it is discouraging, to put it mildly.