Gun reform unlikely to get through the Senate, even with a Democratic majority

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Elizabeth Esty wasn’t even Rep Esty in December 2012 when she had to show up to “one of those press conferences”.

At this point, she was the elected representative Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn. But events have placed her in the familiar spotlight that lawmakers often find themselves in the day after a mass shooting.

“This Congress has failed to show the courage to pass common sense gun reforms,” ​​Esty said the day after the Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. “It is not too late for this Congress to do better. And now is the time.”

But, as Esty and others would learn, it wasn’t.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York holds a press conference Thursday, March 25, 2021 at the Capitol in Washington.
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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York holds a press conference Thursday, March 25, 2021 at the Capitol in Washington.
(Jonathan Ernst / Pool via AP)

Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Esty’s predecessor in the House, found himself at one of “those” press conferences in early October 2017. It was only days after a gunman opened fire on a country music concert just off the Vegas Strip.

“We’re here today to say enough is enough,” Murphy said.

But it was not enough.

“The time for discussions is over,” said the current Secretary of Health and Social Services, then representative. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., Just after the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. “It’s time to act.”

But it still wasn’t.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Appeared at “one of those press conferences” Tuesday afternoon, hours after the mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado.

“Now let’s do something,” Durbin said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., spoke at the same press conference. The New York Democrat is struggling to compare his Senate leadership with that of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. – especially in the first months of the Democratic majority.

Mourners console themselves along the temporary fence outside the parking lot of a King Soopers grocery store, the site of a mass shooting in which 10 people died, Friday March 26, 2021, in Boulder, in Colorado.

Mourners console themselves along the temporary fence outside the parking lot of a King Soopers grocery store, the site of a mass shooting in which 10 people died, Friday March 26, 2021, in Boulder, in Colorado.
(AP)

“This Democratic-led Senate will be different. The Senate is not going to hide. We will debate and fight the epidemic of gun violence in this country,” Schumer promised.

That’s the familiar rhetoric we heard after the shootings in Columbine, San Bernardino, El Paso, Dayton, Orlando.

But things are slightly different this time around in the shadow of two mass shootings. And I asked Schumer about this phenomenon last week:

Pergram: None of these mass shootings have happened in an environment where there is serious conversation about disabling the filibuster. Why wouldn’t this be your chance if you really want to control guns?

Schumer: I will be meeting this week with Senator Murphy and other Democrats who had already been put in place. And we will find the best way forward.

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It is unclear what legislative solution could actually curb mass shootings. Lawmakers have come up with a host of approaches, ranging from better access to treatment for mental health issues, to tightening gun sales rules and background checks. There is yet another discussion about banning so-called “assault weapons”.

Real, Speaking buccaneers rarely derail gun laws. But threat buccaneers, or, as we’ve described in this space, “ghost” buccaneers, are what keep the Senate from tackling gun deaths. As it stands, it takes 60 votes to overcome a filibuster just to start debate on a bill and end debate on a bill.

You have a better chance of getting freighters through the Suez Canal right now than of advancing gun reform through the Senate.

That’s why it took months for the Senate to have a cavalcade of votes on various gun proposals in 2013, long after the Newtown murders. Everyone in the Senate knew there was no way to get 60 votes for any shot of guns. He’s the “ghost” filibuster. So, Senate leaders finally crafted a deal to consider several gun bills.

The bipartisan pact put aside any option to obstruct the bills. Some of the measures obtained more than 50 votes – the pass condition in most circumstances. But the bipartisan deal between then-majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., And McConnell was destined to fail.

They knew that no bill could get 60 votes and stand up to filibuster just to start debate on this measure and 60 votes to end debate. Thus, rather than wasting a lot of extra time in the Senate, the Senate successively proceeded to several roll-call votes, each subject to a special threshold of 60 votes for the passage.

Everything is dead because no bill received 60 votes.

And that was it for a long time on gun votes.

Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., is back at the center of this conversation – for various reasons. First, guns are important to Manchin and his constituents in West Virginia. Second, Manchin is the pivotal key vote in the Senate on most issues. Third, Manchin teamed up with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., After Newtown, to craft a bill requiring background checks on firearms purchased at gun shows and online. “Manchin-Toomey” did not get 60 votes in 2013.

Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., adjusts his face mask as he arrives to vote on the candidates for the Biden administration, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 16, 2021.

Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., adjusts his face mask as he arrives to vote on the candidates for the Biden administration, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, March 16, 2021.
(AP)

The House recently approved two bills on background checks. One is extending the time frame for the FBI to conduct background checks on firearms purchases. The other closes the so-called “Charleston Loophole”. This refers to the 2015 mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, in which Dylann Roof killed nine black worshipers during a Bible study. Roof was able to purchase the weapon he used in the attack when the background check was not completed after three days.

These bills face an uncertain future in the Senate. Manchin says he is against it. Still, Schumer says he’ll put the bills on the floor.

But…

It is not that simple.

Simply launching a debate on a bill requires 60 votes on what is called the “motion to go forward”. Sixty votes are needed to break a filibuster just to start debate on one of these bills. Sixty votes are needed to conclude the debate and move on to the final passage. All the Senate will probably do on firearms is have a debate on “the motion to continue”. And then Bill faces a filibuster. If the bill fails to secure 60 votes, senators will have successfully filibustered the “motion to pass” the bill.

And it will be that on firearms.

Again.

The House and Senate are now both in their first multi-week recess since the last time they approved one of the major initial COVID relief measures at the end of March 2020. The House has cut the city more than a week ago. The Senate Thursday – without acting on guns.

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So far, Democrats have not attempted to eliminate the filibuster. They can not. Democrats don’t have the votes to do it. And when President Biden has spoken of extinguishing the filibuster in recent days, it was mainly in the context of the Democrats’ access to vote bill.

One observation: The Senate lowered the threshold for overcoming a filibuster on executive nominees to 51 yes in 2013. The Senate then lowered the bar to 51 votes to defeat a filibuster on Supreme Court appointments in 2017.

But consider Manchin’s stance on guns for a moment. Even though the Senate has reduced the obligation to eliminate filibuster to 51 yes, it may not have its support, or the support of other Democrats, on a gun bill. fire. Such a bill may not pass.

In other words, this debate may not be about filibuster at all.

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Of course, Democrats can have more political and legislative energy on voting rights legislation. But guns are another matter.

And that probably means there will be another version of “one of those press conferences” someday.

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