In the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, two unlikely senators – Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia – partnered on a good bill to expand background checks. Despite overwhelming public support, lawmakers, nearly all of whom were Republicans, killed the legislation.
It was a disheartening reminder that policymaking on guns has become practically impossible. No matter how modest the proposal, no matter how popular the idea, no matter how crushing the consequences, GOP lawmakers are even less likely to consider gun-safety reforms than they are to approve tax hikes on millionaires.
President Obama obviously recognizes this political reality, which is why he’s focused his efforts on executive actions. Oddly enough, the same senators who should understand as well as anyone why this approach is necessary are the same senators complaining about the president’s approach.
Sen. Pat Toomey, who faces a tough reelection race in blue-leaning Pennsylvania, said that while he still needs more information about the president’s regulatory moves, “the most appropriate way for handling firearm issues is when Congress and the President work together.”“The President has abused these actions in the past and exceeded the boundaries of the law. This should not be allowed under our constitutional framework,” he added in a statement.
For the record, Toomey offered no examples of the president abusing his powers in this area, no examples of the White House exceeding the boundaries of the law, and no evidence of inconsistencies between the administration’s policy and the Constitution.
Around the same time, Manchin added, “Instead of taking unilateral executive action, the President should work with Congress and the American people, just as I’ve always done, to pass the proposals he announced today…. [L]egislation and consensus is the correct approach.”
As much as I respect the work Toomey and Manchin have done on this issue, it’s hard not to wonder what in the world they’re thinking.
Look, let’s make this plain. President Obama wants to reduce gun deaths in the United States. In practical terms, he has three options:
1. Do nothing.
2. Plead with Congress, knowing Republicans will do nothing.
3. Use his executive authority to make modest, incremental changes, which may have some effect on the margins.
Option 1 clearly isn’t consistent with Obama’s approach to problem solving. Option 2 has failed repeatedly. Guess what that leaves us with?
Toomey argued that “the most appropriate way for handling firearm issues is when Congress and the President work together.” To be sure, that sounds great. It’s why the president has tried to do exactly that. The question, however, is what Obama is supposed to do when a radicalized congressional majority deems the issue illegitimate and refuses to compromise.
Given what happened to their own sensible, bipartisan bill, Toomey and Manchin must understand this. It’s why their misguided complaints yesterday rung hollow.