Reelected and unconcerned about ever having to face voters again, Obama seems determined to push a far-reaching agenda — on guns, climate change and gay rights, among other topics — that looks toward his presidential legacy. Reid (D-Nev.), significantly more encumbered, must worry about how to protect 20 Democratic-held Senate seats that will be up for grabs in 2014, while Republicans are defending only 14 spots.
For some Democrats up for reelection next year, supporting the president will be politically treacherous terrain, and no issue may capture that disconnect better than gun control.
Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Udall (Colo.) and Mark Begich (Alaska) face reelection battles in states where gun control is politically unpopular, making their potential votes on the Obama proposals problematic.
Even if those Democrats vote against some or all of the proposals, they are likely to find themselves tied to the president’s effort to rein in gun rights — just as dozens of House Democrats voted against Obama’s health-care legislation but were still attacked over the issue in their campaigns in 2010.
This week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signaled his belief that gun rights is still a winner. “Our Second Amendment rights are under attack, and I am ready to do whatever it takes to stand up for our freedom,” he wrote in a fundraising pitch, a day after his campaign manager sent a similar missive to potential donors with an ominous warning: “The gun-grabbers in the Senate are about to launch an all-out assault on the Second Amendment.”
But the president — keenly aware of how national polls show a tilt toward stronger gun-control laws following the Dec. 14 shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. — has made new gun restrictions a priority.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on new gun proposals this month, and on Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) plans to formally introduce legislation that would ban assault weapons and limit ammunition clips to 10 rounds.
Aides say there probably will be three main packages of gun-control legislation over the coming months, with one anchored by the assault-weapons ban, which is considered the most difficult. Another set of proposals will include an effort to establish universal background checks for all firearm sales in retail stores, gun shows or private exchanges. The other piece would include limiting the size of gun magazine clips.