Thursday, April 11, 2013

Gun control votes may hurt Democrats

Thursday the Senate voted to open debate on a Democratic bill to expand gun control laws. Democrats overcame a filibuster attempt by Republicans that would have prevented the Senate from considering the bill.

The “Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013” (S.649) is sponsored by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The vote for cloture on the motion to proceed passed 68-31 with 16 Republicans joining 50 Democrats and the Senate’s two independents. Georgia’s two senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson joined the Republicans voting for cloture.

The vote for cloture does not mean that the bill has passed the Senate. Instead it means that the bill will come before an up or down vote by the Senate. If the bill passes the Senate, it must then be passed by the House of Representatives before it can be signed by President Obama.

While some gun control opponents consider the vote a loss, it will put many Senate Democrats in a difficult position. Twenty Democratic seats in the Senate will be up for reelection in 2014 compared to 13 for Republicans. Of the open Democratic seats, seven are in states that were won by Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election (Montana, Alaska, North Carolina, South Dakota, Louisiana, Arkansas, and West Virginia). An additional four seats are in states that were tossups in the presidential election (Virginia, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Iowa). Democratic incumbents in these states will be forced to make an uncomfortable choice between their core liberal supporters and the moderate voters that they depend upon to win elections. The difficult position for Democratic senators is underscored by the fact that the only two Democrats to vote against cloture were Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska, both of whom are facing reelection.

The architects of the compromise that allowed the bill to reach the floor of the Senate were Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.). Manchin ran a commercial in 2010 touting his endorsement by the NRA. Toomey has an “A” rating from the NRA and has a long pro-gun voting record. Neither Toomey nor Manchin is facing reelection in 2014.

A vote for cloture does not mean that the same senator will vote for the bill. When the bill is voted upon, it will likely receive very few, if any, votes from Republicans. Even Sen. Toomey may well vote against the final bill. Although Senate Democrats could pass the bill with no Republican votes since they hold the majority, it might very well be killed by a lack of support from Democratic senators. If the bill does pass the Senate, its prospects of being passed by the Republican-controlled House are slim.

The vote by 16 Republicans to end the filibuster will expose many of them to harsh criticism from conservatives and Second Amendment supporters, but it is a strategic move that may cause cracks within the Democratic coalition. The strategy may pay off in 2014 if President Obama’s drive for more gun control costs the Democrats control of the Senate.

Originally published on

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