Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), one of the final Democrats to decide, won election in November in a socially conservative state that favored Romney by more than 20 percentage points over President Obama. Less than two weeks before the votes on the gun legislation, Heitkamp joined the growing number of Democrats endorsing same-sex marriage, just days after her state approved the nation’s strictest law curbing abortion rights.
A couple of hours before Wednesday’s gun votes, Heitkamp announced her opposition in siding with her state’s pro-gun culture.
Each of the senators cited technicalities in the bill that, they said, would infringe on gun owners’ rights.
A handful of Democrats facing difficult 2014 elections also held their powder until the final days or hours before the gun vote. Three voted no. Of the five, Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) is the only supporter of the Manchin-Toomey proposal and same-sex marriage legislation.
Some senators saw a combustible mix of too many social issues colliding.
“There is a lot happening right now that, obviously, many people are very sensitive to,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).
Corker sided with those who believe that immigration will find more support because its substance is far reaching. The first of what is expected to be a month of hearings in the Judiciary Committee will begin Friday, with full Senate consideration in June.
“The scope of immigration is much bigger, the debate will be much more real, because the policies are far more substantial,” he predicted.
Initial estimates from GOP advisers suggest that more than half of the Senate’s 45 Republicans favor the immigration plan, which would seem to give it a much clearer route to passage.
Yet immigration opponents will have many opportunities to pick away at such a large legislative target. “For those of us that were here in 2007, this is a lot more complicated than it appears at first blush,” Cornyn warned.
He was referring to the last immigration overhaul effort, when he and about a dozen fellow Republicans worked on a compromise plan to blend tougher border security with a pathway to citizenship for some of the illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for years.
It fell apart amid a sea of politically charged amendments that opponents offered, designed to win approval but also sink the overall legislation. There is already talk of amendments that would grant a visa to the same-sex partner of someone on the path toward citizenship, an idea Democrats champion but one that might torpedo any Republican support for the overall measure.
“Things like that would take the bill in the wrong direction. Immigration’s hard enough,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), one of the immigration negotiators, said recently. “Let’s [not] go down to redefining marriage, providing more abortions. This is hard enough by itself.”
Manchin said that on gun legislation or immigration or other social issues, more senators are going to have to give ground.
“I think there’s not a whole lot of people really getting out of their comfort zone,” he said.
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