In a coordinated offensive between the upper chamber and the White House, Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) paved the way for a gun-control package — watered-down, according to the author of the 1994 assault weapons ban — to make it to the Senate floor.
But it came with a clear signal that the White House, despite Reid knocking the assault weapons ban off the base bill, wants the restrictions included in a final package.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) renewal of the ban, which featured an updated list of weapons and types of ammunition feeds, passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee a week ago on a 10-8 vote.
But when it came time to whittle down proposals to bring to the floor for passage, Reid passed on including Feinstein’s bill — though it will receive consideration as an amendment.
With Congress leaving for the Easter break, and the House already adjourned, Reid announced this evening that he’s pushing forward with procedural motions to start debate on a gun violence bill when the Senate returns the second week of April.
“This bill will include the provisions on background checks, school safety and gun trafficking reported by the Judiciary Committee. I hope negotiations will continue over the upcoming break to reach a bipartisan compromise on background checks, and I am hopeful that they will succeed. If a compromise is reached, I am open to including it in the base bill. But I want to be clear: in order to be effective, any bill that passes the Senate must include background checks,” Reid said.
“The bill I advance tonight will serve as the basis for opening debate,” he continued. “Once debate begins, I will ensure that a ban on assault weapons, limits to high-capacity magazines, and mental health provisions receive votes, along with other amendments. In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for all of these provisions to receive votes, and I will ensure that they do.”
Reid maintained he needed to drop Feinstein’s assault weapons language from the base bill to have a chance of clearing 60 in a cloture vote. But he’s going to have problems with that regardless considering how negotiators haven’t been able to reach common ground on Reid’s must-have — the background checks.
Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) insistence that checks and records kept by authorities on gun sales extend to all private sales, even between family members, frustrated negotiators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to the point where they declared earlier this month they could not support the language.
Standing with Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York today, Biden prefaced Reid’s announcement with a chiding to Congress to show “courage” in the gun debate.
“There’s not one single thing being proposed — not one, not one, not one — that infringes upon anyone’s Second Amendment constitutional right. Not one,” Biden said, including the assault weapons ban in that.
“Three months ago, a deranged man walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School with a weapon of war. That’s what he walked in with, with a weapon of war. And that weapon of war has no place on American streets. And taking it off America’s streets has no impact on one’s constitutional right to own a weapon.”
Biden cited a favorite argument of Feinstein’s — that the previous assault weapons ban survived constitutional challenges.
“For all those who say we shouldn’t and can’t ban assault weapons, for all those who say the politics is too hard, how can they say that? …For all those who say we shouldn’t or couldn’t ban high-capacity magazines, I just ask them one question: Think about Newtown,” the vice president said.
“Think about what happened out in — where Gabby Giffords, my good friend, was shot and mortally wounded,” Biden added. The former congresswoman, of course, survived.
“It must be awful being in public office and concluding that even though you might believe you should take action, that you can’t take action because of the political consequence you face. What a heck of a way to make a living. I mean this sincerely. What a heck of a way to have to — have to act.”
After getting the news from Reid on Monday that she was relegated to amendment status, Feinstein told CNN on Tuesday that not receiving a vote “would be a major betrayal of trust.”
“This is very important to me. And I’m not going to lay down and play dead,” she said. “I think the American people have said in every single public poll that they support this kind of legislation. It’s aimed to protect children, to protect schools and malls.”
Reid’s move also indicates gun control has a higher priority on the floor than bipartisan immigration reform.
The Senate is in the midst of a late-night “vote-a-rama!” — as Reid’s floor schedule calls it — with another six votes scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday.
Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget was voted down tonight 40-59, with GOP Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Susan Collins (Maine), Dean Heller (Nevada), Mike Lee (Utah), and Rand Paul (Ky.) joining Democrats on the “nay” side.