January 8, 2013

Word has it that the White House, Democrats, and gun control advocates are planning to try to “overwhelm” the National Rifle Association when the battle over guns heats up this month. Along these lines, perhaps the most important news of the morning is that Gabrielle Giffords is unveiling a new national effort to push for sensible gun reforms in the wake of the Newtown shooting, with the explicit purpose of counterbalancing the NRA’s influence over Congress:

Americans for Responsible Solutions, which we are launching today, will invite people from around the country to join a national conversation about gun violence prevention, will raise the funds necessary to balance the influence of the gun lobby, and will line up squarely behind leaders who will stand up for what’s right.

If the coming gun control push is going to have success, one thing the White House and Giffords’ new effort will have to accomplish is to successfully reveal that the NRA does not speak for anyone but the gun industry and a small minority of Americans. The NRA has high positive ratings in some polls, which suggests gun control advocates have their work cut out for them. But the simple fact is that when it comes to specific gun law reforms, the NRA is far outside the American mainstream. By wide margins, majorities favor the reforms being discussed: A recent CNN poll found that 94 percent of Americans support background checks for gun purchasers, while 61 percent support a ban on semi automatic assault guns and high capacity magazine clips.

The Associated Press reports this morning that the White House is reaching out to “gun rights” groups in hopes of enlisting them in the discussions. Presuming that this goes nowhere, it’s clear that the White House is actively working to build a coalition in favor of gun law reform that is broad enough to ultimately isolate the NRA. It is bringing in everyone from law enforcement groups to business groups to religious leaders.

It’s worth facing up to the fact that this is going to be a very difficult battle. Gun control advocates have been historically unable to match the NRA’s pressure on Congress. Over the weekend, newly elected Senator Heidi Heitkamp, who has received an “A” from the NRA, dismissed the proposed reforms under discussion as “extreme,” signaling that some Democrats, particularly from red states, are going to toe the NRA’s line and refuse to even discuss sensible gun reform in the wake of the Newtown massacre of 20 children. And a number of red state Dem Senators are up for reelection in 2014; while several have signaled an openness to legislative action, when the specifics really start being discussed don’t be surprised if we suddenly see outbreaks of skittishness among them.

And so it will be worth watching Giffords’ fundraising and Congressional lobbying effort closely, to see if we’re looking at a fundamentally different political dynamic this time around. The White House really does appear to be fully engaged in this battle — which, along with Giffords’ new push, signals clearly that Democrats fully understand how hard a fight this is going to be.

* Boehner getting slaughtered in fiscal cliff fight: A new Washington Post poll finds that John Boehner got killed in the fiscal cliff fight: It finds that only 31 percent of Americans approve of his handling of it, versus 51 percent who disapprove. Among independents, the numbers are 32-52, and among moderates they’re even worse, at 28-58.

Meanwhile, 52 percent of Americans, and 60 percent of moderates, approve of Obama’s handling of the battle. Obviously this suggests Boehner is heading into the debt limit fight with a weaker hand than Republicans like to suggest.

* Pressure mounts for Obama to use 14th amendment option: The Hill rounds up statements from Congressional Democrats who want the President to resort to the 14th Amendment option to get around the GOP on the debt ceiling. Obama has ruled this out, and as the Hill notes, there are real questions about its legal validity. It bears repeating, though, that however far fetched this and the “mint the coin” options are, they are no less gimmicky and trumped up than the GOP’s threat not to raise the debt limit.

* No, GOP doesn’t have leverage in debt ceiling fight: Mike Tomasky gets to the heart of it: Republicans do not have real leverage in the coming standoff, because they are not, in the end, going to take the country into default, and they know it. As Tomasky notes, some commentators — and even some Dems — tend to grant Republicans the presumption of having a strong position in political standoffs, but here that’s unearned. Indeed, as noted here yesterday, Republicans may actually be quietly backing off the debt ceiling fight.

* No, GOP will never shoot the debt ceiling hostage: Steve Benen also gets it:

There will still be bipartisan talks because both the White House and congressional Republicans want to avoid the automatic sequestration, but so long as President Obama sticks to his guns and insists that the debt limit is not open to negotiation, GOP leaders will continue to look at a hostage they clearly do not want to shoot. Maybe they should have thought of this sooner.

* Republicans backing off debt ceiling fight: Relatedly, William Saletan flags a Mitch McConnell quote that’s notably revealing of the GOP’s weak stance in this battle:

“We have to use whatever leverage we have. And there are some examples of leverage coming along. The debt ceiling is one of them that hopefully would get the president engaged.”

 As Saletan notes: “Whatever leverage we have? Hopefully? Engaged? That is not how you talk when you have leverage. It’s how you talk when you know your leverage is fake.” The GOP position is incoherent: Republicans are signaling they know they’ll have to raise the debt ceiling, and that the threat of default is an empty one, even as they continue to try to use it as leverage.

 * John Brennan needs to explain rationale for drone strikes: Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti assess Obama’s choice to head the CIA, detailing his oversight of Obama’s drone strike program and the questions that remain around whether he supported Bush’s torture policies. As they note, his colleagues claim he has advocated for a clearer rationale and more transparency on targeted killings. I’m still hopeful that Senators will use his hearing to press Brennan to explain that rationale and formally make it public.

* Chuck Hagel and Israel in context: Glenn Kessler has a guide to all the supposedly anti-Semitic statements Hagel has made, putting them into their proper context. As many have pointed out, it says a great deal about Washington’s priorities that Hagel, rather than Brennan, is seen as the controversial nominee.

* And Hagel upends debate over Iran: As the Post’s overview details today, the choice of Hagel as defense secretary is notable for two reasons: It taps a “war skeptic” to head the Defense Department, and it seems to signal that Obama wants someone who will challenge bipartisan conventional wisdom on how to handle Iran.

Also: Dana Milbank on how the choice signals that Obama is spoiling for a fight with the neocons and the GOP chicken hawks.

 What else?

 

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.