A senior Senate Republican observed today on the anti-gun legislation, “It’s hard to say what [Sen. Harry] Reid will even bring up. He could opt for some watered-down nothing burger, I suppose. Hard to say, [but] he’s in a conundrum.” That is because without cover of a GOP filibuster, which now seems unlikely, a whole bunch of vulnerable Senate Democrats will in fact have to take the votes that they dread and are certain to be used against them in 2014.
The Senate will hold the first key procedural vote on a bill to curb gun violence Thursday as more than a half-dozen Republicans said they will join with Democrats to stop any attempt to block legislation drafted in response to a deadly shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that enjoys broad public support.
In scheduling the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said he doesn’t know if he has sufficient support to proceed to further debate on the bill. Regardless, “we’re going to vote on this anyway,” he said. “It may take a little time, but the American people deserve a vote.”
Senate procedural rules require Reid to secure at least 60 votes to move ahead with the legislation. Republican support to proceed doesn’t guarantee final passage of the bill — just that the Senate can actually begin formal debate. Getting at least 51 senators to support a final bill will prove difficult, as the politics of the issue are especially difficult for several Senate Democrats seeking reelection in 2014 in rural and Midwestern states.
So what will red-state Democrats like Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Kay Hagan (N.C.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) do? They could vote with Reid and the president to pass the long-sought after legislation. But many of these senators are in hot water back home. Just this week, Roll Call’s Stu Rothenberg sent up a warning flare for Democrats. He writes, “Baucus, Begich or Hagan could well end up in serious trouble next year, but for now the distinction of most vulnerable incumbent senator surely boils down to either Arkansas’ Mark Pryor or Louisiana’s Mary L. Landrieu. . . . It’s a close call on who is more vulnerable, but I’d probably pick Pryor, especially if [Rep. Tom] Cotton runs. The Harvard-educated Iraq veteran who worked for McKinsey would be an especially difficult opponent for Pryor, and the Democratic base in Arkansas appears to be evaporating quickly.”
To recap, the president’s problem on his array of anti-gun measures has never really been Senate Republicans. Yes, most are opposed to his most stringent anti-gun measures, but it is the red-state Democrats who really want no part of this. President Obama can’t give them “cover” in the election because it is these senators’ close identification with the liberal president that has them in trouble. There is no reason other than White House strong-arming and threats of dampened fundraising that would weigh in favor of these senators backing anti-gun measures.