Since the Orlando massacre nearly two weeks ago, congressional Democrats have spent a total of 41 hours taking dramatic stands (or dramatic sits) in Congress to demand votes on gun-control measures — a 15-hour filibuster in the Senate and a 26-hour sit-in the House.
What's come out of all that is decidedly less dramatic.
Take this article, for example. If you're reading this, it's probably because you don't know/don't care/are sick of all the Brexit news. But for the most part, the nation's (short) attention span is currently captivated by Britain's vote to leave the European Union. The House Democrats' 26-hour all-night sit-in on the House floor — a historic moment in its own right — feels like old news at this point. And that was arguably the case even before it ended Thursday, when two major Supreme Court cases came down and quickly took hold of our collective consciousness.
Brexit or not, on Friday morning, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers stepped into the muggy D.C. heat in the shadow of the Capitol and unveiled their version of a gun-control compromise in the Senate.
— Justin Gray (@grayjustin) June 24, 2016
(We explain the compromise here, but its essence is: No guns for people on two of the FBI's terror watch lists that prevent or make it hard for people to fly.)
To our earlier point, their unveiling was mostly drowned out by other news. A few of the reporters covering it were also tweeting about Brexit.
But there's a bigger problem for gun-control advocates: For all the coverage they did get on their cause this week, we're not sure what they have to show for it. It remains really, really hard to pass new federal gun-control laws, and the one slim area of compromise lawmakers could find seems destined to fail — or not come up for a vote at all.
There are three reasons we don't expect to see much from Democrats' dramatic stands on gun control, and two of them come down to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). Let's break them down.
1. The Senate compromise didn't get enough support: On Thursday, Senate Republican leaders allowed a test vote of sorts on Sen. Susan Collins's (R-Maine) compromise. It got the equivalent of 52 votes in favor, but that wasn't good enough for skeptical Senate Republican leaders. They wanted to see it pass the all-important 60-vote threshold before bringing it up for an actual vote.
(The Senate is complicated that way, but essentially, leaders don't want to spend precious time on legislation destined to fail, and these days you need 60 votes to pass almost anything remotely controversial in the Senate.)
For similar reasons, Ryan wanted to see more support for Collins's proposal before he allowed a vote on it. He told reporters earlier in the week that he wasn't really inclined to bring up any terrorist watch list gun ban unless it got a strong showing in the Senate. As we'd find out a few days later, this one didn't.
2. Voting on this House compromise would reward bad behavior and look like capitulation: At least that's the way Ryan sees it. He hasn't been shy about denigrating the sit-in as a "publicity stunt" and "fundraising scheme."
Plus, he's got a slippery slope to worry about sliding down. If he acquiesces to Democrats' demands after their sit-in, what's to say another group won't try to seize the House floor for a day to get a vote on what they want? (Wednesday was only the third sit-in since 1970.)
"I do worry about the precedent here," Ryan told reporters Thursday. "I have an obligation as speaker of the House to protect this institution. We are the oldest democracy in the world. … And so when we see our democracy descend in this way, it is not a good sign."
Ryan has every political reason to marginalize those who hijacked the chamber floor and somewhat disingenuously accused him of turning off the C-SPAN cameras, and not to reward them by bringing their bill up for a vote.
3. They haven't won over supporters, period: There might well be a majority of lawmakers in Congress who support this compromise, even though Republicans grumble it's too restrictive and Democrats say it doesn't go far enough.
But gun-control advocates say the compromise is just a starting point to talk about broader legislation such as universal background checks and banning so-called assault weapons. They argue banning suspected terrorists won't even work without expanding background checks.
Democrats have yet to win over a significant number of Republicans for those proposals. When the Senate voted Monday on competing gun-control proposals, they got only one new Republican vote: Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).
But there doesn't appear to be any sea change in how the Republican Party more broadly is approaching this — or any new fear that the Democrats' ratcheting up of the rhetoric is giving the GOP pause. Ayotte told The Fix in an interview Thursday that her vote really wasn't a shift in her thinking on gun-control policy. She's also in a tough reelection battle.
The bottom line: After spending the past two weeks taking unprecedented, headline-grabbing action to demand new gun-control policy, we're not sure what Democrats have to show for it. Gun control is an issue that animates opponents a lot and animates supporters considerably less so, which is a big reason why Republicans don't feel pressured to act.
Democrats are trying hard to shift that balance, and this week they drew plenty of attention for their efforts to do so. Whether they can keep up the momentum over the upcoming holiday break and beyond, judging by what happened at the end of this week, is less than certain.