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The Morning Plum: Background checks a major test for self-described `moderate’ Republicans

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Over the weekend, Senator Susan Collins revealed that she will vote Yes on the expanded background check compromise reached by Senators Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin. This is good news, but the case of Collins perfectly captures why it is almost impossible to get anything done in today’s Washington. With the possible exception of immigration, some on the right simply won’t allow moderate Republicans to embrace anything that constitutes even the narrowest of compromises with Obama and Democrats.

It turns out Collins has embraced expanded background checks in spite of the fact that she’s facing a relentless assault from the right back in her home state. As it happens, the “gun rights” group targeting her, which is well to the right of the NRA, has enjoyed fundraising help from none other than Collins’ Senate colleague Rand Paul.

The group, the National Association for Gun Rights, has also run ads against other Republicans — such as Reps. Eric Cantor and Scott Rigell — that show these Republicans morphing into Obama, simply because they embraced the most modest of Obama’s gun reforms, such as making gun trafficking a federal crime and improving state data sharing with feds on the mentally ill, while rejecting virtually all of the other major items on it. Now Collins is a target.

The New York Times reports that Collins, in a closed door meeting with Senate colleagues last week, angrily tore into the group and described it as the sort of thing that’s making it impossible for Republicans to govern:

Senator Susan Collins, of Maine, eyes blazing, stood up and complained about a series of attack ads that she was facing back home from a gun-rights group with deep ties to Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky.
Ms. Collins, who faces re-election next year, said the gun ads were an example of the kind of internal Republican warfare that has hindered the party in Senate races the last two elections. […]
Ms. Collins warned her colleagues that if she loses a primary to a strong opponent with gun-rights credentials, it could well cost the party her seat…Then Mr. Paul, feeling attacked, stormed out.

Apparently Senator Paul still won’t call out this far right group, which portrays literally any sort of cooperation at all with the most modest and popular aspects of Obama’s agenda as akin to morphing into him.

As Peter Beinart points out, there was a time when the GOP was relatively “sane” — when a sizable number of Republican lawmakers supported gun control provisions that are more controversial than expanding background checks. And indeed, a minimally functional, non-pathological opposition could rejoice in killing the assault ban while making some kind of deal to get something in return for supporting background checks, thereby appearing willing to work with Dems to solve a problem that has captured public attention in the wake of Newtown, at a time when the GOP brand is in the toilet and the public sees the party as intransigent and uncompromising. But it’s still a struggle to win over even a few Republican lawmakers to support something backed by nine in 10 Americans, including 87 percent of Republican voters. Any lawmaker who dares embrace such an idea must worry about deeply paranoid right wing attacks designed to make debate of the actual proposals on the table impossible, or worse, perhaps even a primary challenge.

Good for Collins for resisting this pressure. This week’s vote on background checks is a major test for those Republicans who like to see themselves as still capable of compromising with the opposition in even the narrowest of ways to solve the country’s problems.

* John McCain leans toward supporting background checks: A key moment on CNN’s State of the Union yesterday: Asked if he supports the Manchin-Toomey proposal to expand background checks, McCain says:

“I’m very favorably disposed towards that. Eighty percent of the American people want to see a better background check procedure.”

Apparently McCain has lingering concerns about the internet sales, but it seems as if he’s almost there. Remember, McCain cut an ad supporting the idea back in 2000

* But there’s still a ways to go until 60 votes: The Hill tallies up the state of play: Republican Senators still believed to be gettable are Kelly Ayotte, Dean Heller, Richard Burr, Bob Corker, and possibly Tom Coburn (who will offer his own background check bill with no records, which could give some Republicans a way to vote for background checks without supporting Manchin-Toomey).

There are now three Republicans — McCain, Collins, and Mark Kirk — on board. With a handful of red state Dems (Mark Begich, and possibly Mark Pryor and Heidi Heitkamp) expected to defect, that means Dems need to pick up at least a few more Republicans to put this over the top. It’s going to be very close.

* Our “Dickensian” child care system: Jonathan Cohn has an absolute must read on the state of our child care system — a deeply reported look at the wildly uneven system under which 40 percent of our children under five spend at least part of their week with someone else. As Cohn documents, at the lower end the state of things is “Dickensian,” something that Obama’s new pre-K proposal is designed to fix:

Since the 1930s, with the introduction of Social Security, the United States has constructed — slowly, haphazardly, often painfully — a welfare state. Pensions, public housing, health care—piece by piece, the government created protections for citizens that the market doesn’t always provide. Child care is the major unfinished part of that project. The lack of quality, affordable day care is arguably the most significant barrier to full equality for women in the workplace. It makes it more likely that children born in poverty will remain there. That’s why other developed countries made child care a collective responsibility long ago.

It’s a deep dive, and well worth your time, so read the whole thing.

* House Republicans plot to kill immigration reform: A new “Gang of Six” conservative House Republicans, led by irascible GOP Rep. Steve King, is already gearing up to kill whatever compromise the Senate “Gang of Eight” rolls out on immigration reform:

Sources close to House conservatives say that King is working behind the scenes to sour his right-wing colleagues on the Gang of Eight’s plan, and he made calls over the weekend to finalize his strategy with members and conservative activists. Insiders say King is confident that conservatives will come to reject the Gang’s plan once they actually read it and see how it will lead to legalization for people who entered the country illegally, even though it is expected to also include enforcement triggers.

It’s another sign of the determination of House conservatives to prevent more pragmatic party leaders from doing whatever they can to ensure that the GOP at least tries to keep pace with the changing face of the country.

* Marco Rubio’s challenge on immigration: With attention set to focus hard on the Gang of Eight and Rubio in particular, Taegan Goddard makes it simple:

Rubio isn’t going to be president unless Latinos start voting for Republicans in greater numbers. And Rubio isn’t going to be president unless he’s supported by the conservative wing of his party. So Rubio needs to convince conservatives that immigration reform is a good thing.

* White House allies ramp up pressure on immigration: The Bridge Project, a c(4) allied with the White House, has released a new report that documents a range of extreme rhetoric previously used on immigration by Republican Senators. The report seems designed to remind folks where these Senators were ideologically on the issue before the GOP got religion on it — to lay the groundwork to blame their ideological hostility to reform should the deal fall apart.

* Joe Manchin’s long journey on guns: The Los Angeles Times has a good piece documenting Manchin’s path from literally shooting a piece of Obama legislation in a TV ad to brokering a compromise on expanded background checks. Yesterday on Fox News, Manchin did a good job knocking down lie after lie about the proposal — he has shown real leadership on this issue, and he deserves credit for it.

* Gun rights group comes out for background checks: It’s still a struggle to get even a few Republicans on board, even though the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms has now come out in support of the proposal. The group counts 650,000 members, and has already reached out to various GOP Senators to ask for their support, only to be rebuffed.

* House GOPers come out for background checks: Still more movement over the weekend, documented by the Post:

Republican House members from Pennsylvania with past NRA endorsements indicated support for the Toomey-Manchin approach, including Reps. Michael G. Fitzpatrick, Patrick Meehan and Charlie Dent.

This is consistent with what I’ve been telling you: that there are perhaps a few dozen House GOPers — from suburban districts or districts that went for Obama — who could still be gettable.

* And could reason actually prevail in the gun debate? E.J. Dionne makes an excellent point:  Gun control is actually possible this time not because reformers are using Newtown to manipulate people’s emotions; it’s that the American public and some lawmakers are rationally evaluating the problem and supporting sensible solutions to it. This is also key:

Gun reform is not a “cultural issue,” however often political commentators like to say it is. It has nothing to do with disrespect for rural ways of life — and bless Manchin, a West Virginian to his core, for beginning to break the back of this exploitative justification for paralysis in the face of needless death. Manchin’s profoundly human and humane response to his meeting with Newtown families showed that the only cultural issue here is how to beat back the culture of violence.

Hopefully, other red state Dems will understand what Manchin is accomplishing here, and emulate him. What else?

What else?