Joe Manchin is not done with gun control. Does it matter?

April 29, 2013

Eleven days after the amendment he co-authored to expand background checks for gun purchases was rejected by his Senate colleagues, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) sounded optimistic Sunday about a second try.

“I'm willing to go anywhere in this country, I'm going to debate anybody on this issue, read the bill and you tell me what you don't like,” Manchin said on “Fox News Sunday,” reiterating his intention to bring his measure back to the Senate floor.

Mission impossible? No. But the rebooted fight Manchin is promising will face long odds during the next 18 months for a simple reason: High-profile political battles like the one over guns don’t happen in a vacuum.


(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Even after intense lobbying by President Obama, winning bipartisan support, and polling that showed 90 percent of Americans supported the idea, the push to expand background checks failed. After the vote, an angry Obama vowed the fight was not over and Manchin and other advocates have suggested losing the round doesn’t amount to losing the bout.

The thing is, there are other fights that will require a great deal of attention and political capital from Obama and congressional Democrats in the coming months. And they won’t be easy.

There’s the effort to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, a high priority for Democrats that some conservatives are already trying to stall. Then there’s the prospect of striking a long-term deficit reduction deal, the kind of “grand bargain” on fiscal issues that has eluded Obama and Republicans so far, but neither party has given up on this time around.

Sure, a retooled push for gun control informed by the failure of the most recent effort sounds on its own like it could work. And it’s not just Manchin who is moving forward with a renewed push. The New York Times reported last week that other lawmakers are also trying to break new ground.

But there is only so much Obama and Democratic leaders can fight for on Capitol Hill. And pressing for something that was just rejected isn’t the best way to shore up one’s political standing ahead of high-stakes battles on other issues.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has shelved gun legislation for now. Even Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Manchin’s Republican partner on background checks, said last week he intends to turn his attention to fiscal issues. (Though Manchin said Sunday Toomey is “totally committed to this bill.”)

“Until we have such reason to believe that we’d have a different outcome I think the issue is resolved by the Senate," Toomey said on Friday. "I accept when the Senate speaks and so I’ve turned my attention to the fiscal and economic matters that I’ve normally focused on."

What's more, the gun debate isn’t unfolding in an electoral vacuum any more than it’s happening in a legislative one. Two of the four Democrats who opposed the measure are up for reelection in red states next year.

Why does this matter? For background checks to pass on a second try, five “no” votes would have to become “yes” votes. So even if say, retiring Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who isn’t up for reelection until 2018, both flipped, three more senators would need to follow suit. And it’s hard to imagine 2014ers Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas flipping as Election Day draws even nearer. Gun control advocates would need to win new Republican “yes” votes if Pryor and Begich didn't flip, which would be no small task.

In the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown Conn., last year, the debate over guns had a clear moment in this Congress, and senators rejected new restrictions. That doesn’t mean gun control laws cannot be passed in the long term, but it’s hard to see how the Joe Manchins of the world will have much success in the near term.

Obama plans to nominate Charlotte mayor for transportation secretary: President Obama intends to nominate Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx to become the next transportation secretary, a White House official says. Foxx is viewed as a rising star in the Democratic Party and would be the first African American nominated to serve in the president’s second-term Cabinet.

Debate night for Sanford and Colbert Busch: Mark Sanford and Elizabeth Colbert Busch will debate for the first (and only) time tonight at 7 p.m. ET. The debate comes as Colbert Busch has seized the high ground in South Carolina's 1st district special election campaign. Sanford needs everything to go his way during the final week to regain his footing in a race that once looked like his to lose. This could be his chance to shift the tide. Colbert Busch has had a good run of late, but she is an untested debater going up against a veteran pol in Sanford. Stay tuned to Post Politics tonight for complete coverage.

Fixbits:

Several lawmakers criticized the way authorities handled the Boston Marathon bombing.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) does not want to see "boots on the ground" in Syria.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) said the FBI is investigating “persons of interest” inside the United States connected to the Boston bombing.

The FBI believes it has the right man now in the case of the ricin-laced letters sent to Obama, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and a judge.

A bill sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) would require super PACs to reveal their donors.

“I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist I used to be,” Obama joked at Saturday's White House Correspondents' Association Dinner.

Experience the White House Correspondents’ dinner in two minutes. And check out Obama's complete remarks here.

Sarah Palin called the dinner "pathetic." It's worth noting she has shown up at after-parties in the past.

Former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer (D) has updated his Web site. Schweitzer is considering a run for the Senate in 2014.

Must-reads: 

"After string of setbacks, more charm may be the last, best option for Obama" -- Juliet Eilperin and Zachary A. Goldfarb, Washington Post

"Could Kirsten Gillibrand run for president?" -- Maggie Haberman, Politico

"The Clamor for Special Sequester Deals" -- Niels Lesniewski, Roll Call

Sean Sullivan covers national politics for “The Fix.”
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