The Washington Post

6 senators to watch at Tuesday’s gun hearings

The Senate Judiciary Committee resumes deliberations Tuesday on three pieces of legislation to curb gun-related violence after approving a bill last week to make gun trafficking — or the practice of illegally purchasing firearms for someone else — a federal crime for the first time.

Proceedings have gone smoothly so far, but that's mostly because the gun trafficking bill enjoys bipartisan support. But the next three bills on the docket -- a proposed ban on military-style assault weapons, a plan to expand the background-check program, and the proposed expansion of a Justice Department grant program for school security -- face stiffer GOP opposition.

So who are the senators to watch as the Judiciary Committee reconvenes today? Here's a half dozen:

(Marvin Joseph-Washington Post)

1.) Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.): The committee chairman maintains a cordial relationship with the National Rifle Association (despite his C-rating) and has promised to oversee cordial proceedings. He's also promised that the most controversial Democratic proposal -- the assault weapons ban -- will get an up or down vote, despite strong objections from Republicans. Leahy could have left Judiciary to lead the influential Appropriations Committee, but he opted to stay put knowing that this moment -- serious consideration of gun-control-related legislation -- would dominate headlines more than passage of a continuing resolution. (Let's see if that plays out as he predicted this week, eh?)

(J. Scott Applewhite - AP)

2.) Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.): To say that banning the sale, use and manufacturing of military-style assault weapons has been her life's work would be correct -- and members of both parties credit Feinstein's determined, at-times emotional push to ban hundreds of semi-automatic weapons. Remember that Feinstein's political career advanced after the assassination of two of her San Francisco City Hall colleagues, and some of the nation's most brazen mass shootings have occurred in California. She's pushing hard to get her assault weapons ban out of committee, but has stopped short of suggesting that her bill could ultimately pass the full Senate. Regardless, she's earned the appreciation of liberals and gun-control advocates pushing for an outright ban, and Republicans who admire her willingness to try.

(Marvin Joseph / Washington Post)

3.) Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.): New York's senior senator is in the midst of delicate negotiations over a bipartisan proposal to expand the background check system. For now, he's introduced a bill fully supported by gun-control advocates that would require background checks on all private and commercial firearm sales -- in other words, a truly universal background check system. But that plan has no hope of passing the full Senate, so Schumer continues talking with moderate Democrats and Republicans -- including Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) -- about a bipartisan alternative that would permit some exemptions to the background-check program, but also establish a record-keeping system for private sales.

(Mandel Ngan - AFP/Getty Images)

4.) Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa): The committee's ranking Republican joined with the panel's Democrats to approve the gun trafficking bill after Leahy agreed to make some changes. He's also hinted at possible support for Schumer's background-check bill, but his true intentions won't be clear until the bipartisan background-check bill materializes. Grassley agrees with Democrats that Congress needs to do something to address gun-related violence, but is also pushing for lawmakers to find ways to work on bolstering mental-health services and address the continued production of violent entertainment media.


5.) (tie) Sens. John Cornyn (R) and Ted Cruz (R): The Texas Twosome has been the most vocal in their opposition to the Democratic-backed bills so far. Cornyn faces reelection next year and is working hard to keep Cruz and his tea party supporters happy, in order to avoid a conservative primary challenger. The freshman Cruz, meanwhile, has made an early mark on the Senate with his participation in Sen. Rand Paul's 13-hour filibuster, his sharp questioning during Chuck Hagel's confirmation hearing and the use of visual aids to push back against elements of Feinstein's proposed assault weapons ban. He voiced concerns with the gun trafficking bill last week and is expected to be a vocal opponent of the remaining three bills this week. Both men come to the gun debate with real-world credibility and experience: Cornyn previously served as Texas attorney general, while Cruz served as the Lone Star State's solicitor general and challenged the District of Columbia's handgun ban in federal court.

Agree or disagree with our list? Who are you watching as the debate continues? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Lynch, Markey hitting airwaves in Massachusetts: Democratic Reps. Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch are going up on the air with their first TV ads in the race for Secretary of State John Kerry's old Senate seat. Markey's spot touts his support for stricter guns laws. Lynch, who polls show is an underdog to Markey, is up with a spot underscoring his humble roots, and his background as an ironworker.

A Democrat tracking the ad buys said Markey is spending about $260,000 to air his ad, while Lynch is spending about $217,000 to air his spot. Those are not huge buys, but with seven weeks remaining until the primary, neither side was expected to go really big with the first wave of ads.


Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald (D) took a step closer to challenging Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R).

Senate Democrats' campaign arm is not committing to Ashley Judd in Kentucky yet.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) had an OMG moment going through airport security.

CBC Chair Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) expressed concern over the lack of new black Cabinet nominees.

Gay GOP activist Bruce Carroll may challenge Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Former Maryland GOP chairman Alex Mooney is mulling a run for the seat of Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who is running for the Senate.

Sarah Palin is writing a Christmas book.


"Next ‘war on women’ front: Pennsylvania governor race?" -- Maggie Haberman, Politico

"Arkansas's Abortion Ban and One Man's Strong Will" -- Erik Eckholm, New York Times

"Perez's Record Could Fuel Labor Fight" -- John Ramlich, Roll Call

Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost



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