Why Joe Biden needs the NRA

January 9, 2013

The news that Vice President Joe Biden would huddle with executives from the National Rifle Association on Thursday came as unwelcome news to many gun control advocates who view the NRA as an organization to be ignored, not invited in.


NRA head honcho Wayne LaPierre.

But, the meeting is smart politics by Biden -- and the White House more broadly. It's a recognition that, to pass something on guns through Congress, they need the NRA either on board or not totally in opposition to the proposal.

Why? Like them or hate them -- and there are lots of people who feel both ways -- the NRA has proven to be among the best-funded and most effective groups when it comes to swaying the sentiments of members of Congress.

And while groups like Mayors Against illegal Guns and the newly-formed Americans for Responsible Solutions are being built to match (or at least approximate) the political power of the NRA, neither group is close to there yet -- and likely won't be for some time, if ever.

Biden, as he has shown both in cutting the debt ceiling deal of 2011 and the fiscal cliff compromise of 2012, understands how legislation makes and breaks in Congress, and he gets that, at least for now, the NRA is an unchallenged force on Capitol Hill when it comes to gun issues.

And remember that while the broad sentiment about what gun violence says about our society has shifted since the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., last month, public opinion on specific proposals has changed far less.

Check out this table built by WaPo polling wunderkind Scott Clement:

What those numbers suggest is that, while it may feel like the country's view on guns have changed in some fundamental way that strengthens the hand of those who want more gun control, the data suggests it's a much less clear cut than that.

And, in a political jump ball, having the NRA signed on to some proposal is almost certainly the difference between a bill becoming a law and it, well, not.

Now, inviting the NRA to a meeting is very different than getting (or wanting to get) the NRA to sign on to the final product that the Biden task force produces. (It seems unlikely that if Biden pushes for an assault weapons ban, for instance, that the NRA would be even close to on board.)

But Biden is smart to meet with the NRA both to a) see if there is a place of mutual interest where the organization could actually be supportive of the proposal from the task force, but also b) to try to tamp down the white-hot rhetoric on both sides at the moment.

While "A" might be the goal, "B" has its merits as a political strategy as well. It's at least in theory more difficult for the NRA to aggressively hate a bill that they were consulted on -- even if it's not a piece of legislation they can support.

Remember in politics it's always a good idea to keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Fixbits:

Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a potential challenger to Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) in 2014, is doing two events outside his district on Wednesday.

Ron Paul supporters are expected to effectively take over the Iowa Republican Party on Saturday.

Former DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe leads Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) by five points in that state's open governor's race, according to a poll from Democratic automated pollster Public Policy Polling.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) calls the GOP the "bath salts caucus."

The Illinois state House approves driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.

Former Democratic Governors Association and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) spokeswoman Emily Bittner is set to become national press secretary and communications advisor for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Must-reads:

"Kristol vs. Hagel" -- Dave Weigel, Slate

"For Nominees, Doubts About War Born in Vietnam" -- Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times

"Chances Of Gun Control Dim In Washington" -- Zeke Miller and John Stanton, BuzzFeed

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Sean Sullivan | January 8, 2013