The president could not have expended more time, political capital and energy on his anti-gun legislation and yet today the vote on cloture on the Toomey-Manchin background check bill wasn’t even close. In the end, 54 senators voted for cloture, 6 less than needed. The Democratic senators voting no were Mark Begich (Alaska), Max Baucus (Mont.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), and Harry Reid (Nev.) (for procedural purposes so he could potentially bring it up again).
It is hard to blame this one solely on the Republicans who contributed four votes in favor of cloture.
In the short run it means that no significant gun legislation is likely to pass. In the big picture this is a devastating loss for the White House. Not unlike President George W. Bush’s second term (when he threw the dice and lost on Social Security), the president lost big on his first initiative, thereby lessening his political heft for the remainder of his term.
In retrospect, the president was guilty of trying to have his cake and eat it too. He very much wanted to use the Newtown, Conn., families and tragedy to move public opinion, but background checks would have done nothing to prevent Newtown. But this is also a matter of red state senators knowing their home state constituents and finding no comfort in the president’s protective aura.
One can speculate that this may make the president more willing to wheel and deal on the budget, taxes and entitlement reform. But it is equally possible he’ll have to make it up to his base by standing firmly against fiscal sobriety. On immigration reform, this probably will make the president a more energetic backer of the Gang of Eight and therefore somewhat helpful in bringing along Democrats. Obama may want and need immigration reform as much as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) does.
This episode once again suggests there is no one close to the president willing to deliver bad news (You don’t have the votes, Mr. President.). And it is a reminder that the president has never formed close bonds with lawmakers. Can he recover? Sure, but it would help if he got some candid advisers who didn’t belive the whole country thinks like Hyde Park.