The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why Bernie Sanders missed the Senate Democrats’ 14-hour gun filibuster

Before Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) headed to the floor yesterday to begin a marathon gun safety speech, his office reached out to members of the 46-member Democratic caucus. By the end of it, early Thursday morning, Murphy announced that the Democrats would get votes on Sen. Dianne Feinstein's legislation to prevent people on the terror watch list from buying guns, and his own legislation to expand background checks. Thirty-eight of his fellow senators joined the filibuster, allowing Murphy to rest, reading comments from the Internet or describing mass shootings in their own states.

Not among them: Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The runner-up in the Democratic presidential primaries was in Burlington, Vt., ahead of a simulcast speech to supporters today. (He is not expected to concede.) He'd been in Washington the night before the filibuster began, for the Democratic luncheon and a meeting with Hillary Clinton, but he was not able to return to the city.

"It just didn't work yesterday," said Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs. "We're keeping an eye on votes next week."

Sanders, who opposed the Brady Bill that expanded background checks and waiting periods, has since come into sync with the Democratic caucus. "The idea that weapons designed to do one thing — kill people by the dozens — should be sold and distributed in our country is absurd," he said Tuesday. On Wednesday, he tweeted in support of the filibuster.

Hillary Clinton did roughly the same thing.

But Sanders's physical absence was noticed on social media, and a bit of a departure from his approach to the Senate. In 2010, the senator waged a one-man filibuster against a compromise that allowed most of the Bush-era tax cuts to continue. It did not delay the vote on that compromise, but it captured liberal attention and raised Sanders's profile, with the text of the speech soon collected into a book.

Six years later, Sanders is a major national figure, flanked by Secret Service protection for as long as he wants it. It's up to him — and eventually, delegates to the Democratic National Convention — when he'll resume the usual work of the Senate. The Murphy filibuster, which quickly turned into a rallying moment for progressives, came at the wrong time.