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How President Obama’s executive orders on guns might doom a big bill

When President Obama unveils the recommendations from a White House-led task force on how to curb gun violence in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut shootings later Wednesday, the package of proposals is expected to include a series of executive orders.

If you want a "big" (read: broad/comprehensive) bill to get through Congress, that's almost certainly a bad thing. Here's why.

President Obama will unveil his proposals to curb gun violence on Wednesday.

The practical reality of the executive order options before President Obama -- he is, reportedly considering as many as 19 -- is that the vast majority of actions he can take are relatively minor in nature. As the Post's Wonkblog noted Tuesday: "It’s unlikely that Obama can significantly alter gun laws through executive order."

Of course, the reality of what Obama can do via executive order and the perception of his using executive privilege to alter (or re-enforce) laws are two very different things. And it's the perception that Obama has to worry about.

If he does make good on all 19 executive orders (or, really, anything in double digits) Republicans will immediately cry foul, insisting that Obama is trying to run our democracy like a dictatorship.

Democrats may roll their eyes at this tactic but remember that there is a major strain of thinking in the country -- among Republicans and even some independents -- that the ultimate goal for President Obama is to take away everyone's guns. (To be clear, the President has never hinted at such a move and, in fact, has made clear he opposes any sort of action like that.)

The President acting alone would stoke those fears and gin up Republicans to keep any sort of larger legislation -- like, say, an assault weapons ban -- from moving through Congress. It would likely be seen as a poison-the-well moment from which the debate might never recover to a place where bipartisan compromise was possible.

President Obama and his senior strategists are certainly aware of the danger of appearing to make (or change) law by fiat.  If Obama goes big on executive orders later today, it's likely because he has made the calculation that no significant number of Republicans are going to be with him on any sort of gun control measure and, therefore, the only way to get some of these things done is through his powers as the country's chief executive.

Perhaps. But he also could run the risk of jeopardizing more broad-reaching pieces of his gun agenda if Democratic Senators up for re-election in pro-gun states like Louisiana, Arkansas and South Dakota balk at getting behind his legislative solutions in the wake of an uproar over the executive orders.

Obama is, at heart, a political pragmatist -- a bent that would suggest that he goes smaller on executive orders in hopes of getting something bigger and more meaningful legislatively. But, he is also a creature of a first term dominated by partisanship and Congressional gridlock with an eye on his historical legacy.

We'll know a bit later today which side of President Obama's personality won out.

Inhofe to oppose Hagel: Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the incoming ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, announced Tuesday evening that he will vote against Chuck Hagel's nomination for Secretary of Defense.

"Chuck Hagel is a good person, and it was a pleasure to serve with him in the United States Senate," Inhofe said in a statement, noting Hagel's service in Vietnam. “Unfortunately, as I told him during our meeting today, we are simply too philosophically opposed on the issues for me to support his nomination."

Inhofe is taking over for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as ranking member on the committee which host Hagel's confirmation hearings.

As we noted Tuesday, the GOP will likely need to be united in opposition to Hagel if it is to defeat him.


The House passes $50 billion more in Sandy relief, despite the opposition of 180 Republicans.

The NRA labels Obama an "elitist hypocrite."

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) isn't sure an assault weapons ban will pass.

The White House praises Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) immigration push.

The chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party thinks Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) will run for reelection in 2014. Harkin is 73 years old. News leaked this week that Rep. Bruce Braley (D), considered a likely successor as Democratic Senate nominee, is also looking at running for governor.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who has raised big money as his profile has risen in recent months, will not take matching funds for his primary, as he did in 2009.

Virginia gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe (D) and Ken Cuccinelli (R) both raised about $1.1 million in their most recent fundraising reports.

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) leads all potential GOP challengers in a new poll from Democratic automated pollster PPP, though none of them are very well-known and Hagan has modest personal image numbers.


"Hagel’s nomination as defense secretary gains momentum" -- Paul Kane, Washington Post

"Obama to announce most expansive gun-control agenda in generations" -- Philip Rucker, Washington Post

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