During his State of the Union address, President Obama repeated — again and again — that the families of Newtown, and other communities torn apart by gun violence, “deserve a vote.” It was the most powerful passage in his speech, and it resulted in a standing ovation among many members of both parties, with some gazing up at the families themselves, who were seated in the balcony. You can watch this stirring moment right here.
It’s a safe bet that Senators Mark Begich, Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu, Heidi Heitkamp, Max Baucus, and Joe Donnelly — who remain undecided on the Manchin-Toomey compromise on background checks — were among those applauding. So now we’re going to find out: Are these Senators going to make good on that applause?
Because right now, the current situation really appears to be that the fate of the proposal rests in the hands of red state Dems. It would be one thing if it were earning enough GOP support to pass without most of them; in that case, Harry Reid might tacitly indicate that he were okay with a No vote. But right now, the only Republicans supporting the bill are Toomey, John McCain, Susan Collins, and Mark Kirk. The only two Republicans who still appear gettable are Dean Heller and Kelly Ayotte. Even with a total of six Republicans, you’d still need virtually all the red state Dems to break the GOP filibuster.
Senate aides are currently mulling a tweak to the Manchin-Toomey compromise that would exempt certain far flung rural communities in Alaska and North Dakota from some background check requirements. That could win over Heitkamp and Begich. It could also win over another Republican — Lisa Murkowski — which would give Dems a bit more flexibility.
But all of these details aside, it needs to be restated that these Senators have the option of voting Yes on breaking the filibuster, while voting No on the final vote. In that scenario, the proposal would likely pass with a simple majority. And so, if these Senators continue to hold out, they need to be pressed on whether they really think a proposal that has the support of eight in 10 Americans doesn’t deserve a straight up or down vote, at a time when the Newtown slayings have focused public attention on a problem that continues to claim the lives of thousands of Americans per year. Whatever their final vote, there’s no excuse for them to enable and participate in GOP obstructionism of a proposal with near universal public support.
By the way, it’s not just rhetorical gimmickry to point out that Senators applauded while Obama intoned that the Newtown families “deserve a vote.” The families have actually been in the Capitol in recent days asking for that vote, and will continue to do so. Now, perhaps you think what the families want shouldn’t override other concerns. Perhaps some of these Senators will reach the conclusion, on the merits, that the legislation does not deserve a simple majority vote in the Senate, and that filibustering it is justified. If so, they should be pressed to explain why. No more hiding behind the idea that the Senate has inexorably become a 60 vote chamber. No more excuses.
* New middle ground on guns emerges: Indeed, the Fix crew points to a new Post poll with striking findings:
Fifty-five percent of respondents say new gun laws could be instituted without impinging on the 2nd Amendment right of gun owners. That includes 50 percent of those who themselves own guns, 58 percent of people who have a gun owner in their home and, not surprisingly, 60 percent of people who have no guns in their homes. The findings contradict long-held conventional wisdom regarding the politics of guns that is premised on the idea that people — particularly those who support gun rights — view it as an all or nothing issue.
The Fix gang asks: “Is a middle ground on guns emerging?” The answer is Yes. And the Manchin-Toomey proposal gives these red state Dems a way to embrace it. By the way: the Post poll also finds that 86 percent of Americans, and 84 percent of Republicans, support the ideas in Manchin-Toomey.
* The sixth anniversary of the Virginia tech shooting is today: The Virginia tech shooting took place six years ago today — on April 16th, 2007 –and Harry Reid’s office has released a good video remembrance, with a focus on the fact that a better background check could have saved those 32 lives:
* No one in custody for Boston bombing: No one has been detained as a suspect, but the New York Times goes there, anyway:
Some law enforcement officials noted that the blasts came at the start of a week that has sometimes been seen as significant for radical American antigovernment groups: it was the April 15 deadline for filing taxes, and Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts, the start of a week that has seen violence in the past. April 19 is the anniversary of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Note that the source is law enforcement officials.
* Children injured, one killed: The latest tally from law enforcement officials: nine children were injured in the explosions, and one eight year old boy was killed. The Dorchester Reporter has the details surrounding the young boy’s death and his family’s place in the community.
* How Obama is talking about terrorism: Josh Gerstein:
The content of his three-and-a-half-minute speech Monday—in particular his notable aversion to labeling the incident as “terror” or “terrorism”—seemed to reflect a continuing desire not to stoke fears or make premature public judgments even as he made sure to offer the public presence that he’d initially avoided during his first experiences managing terrorist attacks as president.
* Senators to roll out immigration reform: The bipartisan Gang of Eight is set to introduce its immigration reform proposal today, and it includes a 13-year path to citizenship in exchange for this in the way of enforcement:
Billions of dollars would be invested in new border-control measures, including surveillance drones, security fencing and 3,500 additional federal agents charged with apprehending people attempting to enter illegally from Mexico.
The question remains, though, whether the path to citizenship will be tied to some kind of border security “trigger,” which the right wants and Obama doesn’t. Unclear whether that sticking point can be overcome.
* U.S. engaged in torture, new report finds: Scott Shane reports that a bipartisan task force is set to release a report that documents in great legal detail that the United States did, in fact, engage in torture after 9/11:
The C.I.A. not only waterboarded prisoners, but slammed them into walls, chained them in uncomfortable positions for hours, stripped them of clothing and kept them awake for days on end….It offers dozens of legal cases in which similar treatment was prosecuted in the United States or denounced as torture by American officials when used by other countries.
The question is whether this will prompt a serious debate over torture’s legacy; because as the report points out, as long as the question of whether what the United States did counts as torture remains in dispute, “it could happen again.”
* Debunking a “gun rights” talking point: The NRA likes to claim that guns are used defensively over 2 million times a year, but as Juliet Lapados notes, a look at reliable statistics conducted by the Violence Policy Center suggests that the numbers are far, far smaller. I’d only add that none of the proposals that have any chance of passing would take guns away from the law abiding in the first place, so…
* And GOP leaders are not whipping against Manchin-Toomey: An important bit of reporting from Dan Friedman:
Senate Republican leaders will not push their members to vote against a background check compromise, GOP senators said, in a sign party leaders will duck a public fight against the popular plan and the high-profile gun violence victims supporting it.
So perhaps Senators Heller and Ayotte remain gettable.