Congress Returns With Guns, Immigration, Budget on Agenda

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  April 8, 2013 at 8:59 AM EDT

Cherry blossoms; photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Cherry blossoms begin to open around the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Break’s over, everyone.

Members of Congress head back to Washington on Monday to face what is shaping up to be a busy work period at a pivotal moment for getting something done.

In the Senate, gun control legislation at the top of the agenda could have new momentum, Ed O’Keefe and Phil Rucker write on the front page of the Washington Post.

At the same time, immigration reform is gaining traction as senators prepare to release a detailed plan that would include a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented people in this country. A similar package is coming together in the House.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida will brief his Republican colleagues this week on the Gang of Eight proposal taking shape. (Rubio’s office sent reporters this Miami Herald column that suggested his actions have been misunderstood.)

The Senate’s third-ranking Democrat and Gang of Eight member Chuck Schumer of New York expressed optimism Sunday that a deal could be reached by week’s end. “I think we’re doing very well. I think that we hope that we can have a bipartisan agreement among the eight of us on comprehensive immigration reform by the end of this week,” Schumer said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Finally, President Barack Obama will reveal his vision for funding the government Wednesday. The much-delayed budget release will attract attention despite the blueprint’s long odds of ever being adopted into law.

The president previewed his budget in his weekly video address. As he has done many times since the fiscal fights between the administration and House Republicans began in 2011, Mr. Obama warned that Washington must avoid “more self-inflicted wounds” like the sequester and instead make “smarter choices” that invest in a solid future for the middle class.

“For years, an argument in Washington has raged between reducing our deficits at all costs, and making the investments we need to grow the economy. My budget puts that argument to rest,” Mr. Obama said. “We don’t have to choose between these goals — we can do both. As we saw in the 1990s, nothing reduces deficits faster than a growing economy that creates good jobs.”

He stressed that Republicans agree with his proposal to change entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security, but also noted he wants to end “special interest tax breaks.”

“It’s a budget that doesn’t spend beyond our means. And it’s a budget that doesn’t make harsh and unnecessary cuts that only serve to slow our economy,” the president said.

The early leaks of budget details were not received well by liberals or members of the House Republican Conference. And a Republican super PAC plans a six-figure ad campaign against it.

Guns will remain in the spotlight as Mr. Obama returns to Connecticut on Monday in an attempt to prod the Senate to take action on the legislation.

It’s been nearly two months since the president rattled off the names of gun violence victims during his State of the Union address, imploring Congress to remember, “They deserve a vote.”

The White House is telling reporters that at the event at the University of Hartford, Mr. Obama will “speak … of the obligations we have to children lost in Newtown and other victims of gun violence to act on these proposals.”

The Post’s O’Keefe and Rucker write that the prospects for expanded federal background checks for gun purchases have improved now that GOP Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania has engaged in talks with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia:

Manchin and Toomey are developing a measure to require background checks for all gun purchases except sales between close family members and some hunters, which addresses concerns of some conservatives, according to the aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about the talks.

If Manchin and Toomey are able to broker an agreement, it will need to withstand a Republican filibuster effort led by Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rubio. (So far, a dozen senators back Paul.)

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., urged his colleagues not shy away from debate on the issue.

“I don’t understand it. The purpose of the United States senate is to debate and to vote and to let the people know where we stand,” McCain said during an appearance Sunday on CBS. “What are we afraid of?”

McCain added that he remained undecided on the subject of expanded background checks. “It really depends on how they’re carried out, how long, what the depth of it is. This is another reason why we need to go to the floor,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said the gun legislation that will move forward in the chamber will include expanded background checks regardless of whether Republicans agree to a compromise. We’ll get a sense of just how long he is willing to wait for Toomey and Manchin to reach a deal when the Senate officially returns from its two-week recess Monday at 2 p.m. ET.

2016: STILL THREE YEARS AWAY

To catch you up to speed:

Hillary Clinton is still super world famous.

Since we last published, the former secretary of state gave her first big speech and she and Vice President Joe Biden said nice things about each other. (It wasn’t awkward at all.)

She signed a major book deal to outline her State Department tenure, slated for a June 2014 release. She headlined a major women’s conference in New York and made a big splash. Her people are still pushing her as a candidate for president in 2016. And signing on to efforts looking to draft her. Everyone swears she hasn’t yet made up her mind.

Finally, Clinton still rests comfortably (and will continue to stay) atop presidential preference polls.

Now you’re covered.

LINE ITEMS

  • Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died Monday at the age of 87.

  • The New York Times publishes a major report looking at the drone war.

  • Paul Kane writes about Democratic recruitment efforts as the party attempts to win back control of the House.

  • Mr. Obama phoned California Attorney General Kamala Harris to apologize for calling her “the best-looking attorney general” at a fundraiser in Northern California last week.

  • Mr. Obama will take a 5 percent pay cut in a symbolic gesture as government agencies make sequestration cuts. He is paid $400,000 annually and will write checks totalling $20,000 this year to return a chunk to the treasury.

  • Support for same-sex marriage is swelling among senators, with two Democrats from more conservative states, Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, backing it last week. But don’t expect Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, one of the most endangered Democrats in 2014, to endorse marriage equality any time soon.

  • Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne “will go to court to block the artists’ community of Bisbee from implementing a newly approved ordinance recognizing civil unions for same-sex couples,” the Associated Press reports.

  • Talking Points Memo’s Benjy Sarlin profiles the unusual friendship between undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas and tea party founding father Mark Meckler.

  • Perry Bacon reports for The Grio that African-Americans stand to lose out on Medicare expansion since Republican governors in seven of the 10 states with the highest percentage of African-Americans have said they will oppose the Medicaid expansion that’s part of the Affordable Care Act.

  • While a recent Pew study finds that 52 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, only 29 percent of conservative Republicans say it should be legal compared to 73 percent of liberal Democrats.

  • Mr. Obama last week helped House Democrats raise $3.2 million for their 2014 campaign.

  • Three House Dems have asked the GAO to look into the “underlying causes” of long voting lines, particularly in Florida and Virginia.

  • FreedomWorks is not happy with the Republican National Committee.

  • In the New Republic, Noam Schieber examines redistricting’s lingering effects on the Republican Party.

  • Top Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer last week lamented that there is a “pavlovian response from some media outlets” to anything posted on the Drudge Report.

  • David Kuo, who led former President George W. Bush’s faith-based initiative at the White House, died over the weekend. He was 44.

  • Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., announced that her office had received three phoned death threats against her over her support of legislation requiring insurance for gun owners.

  • Paul will give a keynote speech at the New Hampshire Republican Party’s Liberty dinner on May 20.

  • Keynoting a New Hampshire dinner honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and asked about running in New Hampshire — what he called, “almost a second home” — former Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown said he’s not done with politics and is not going to rule anything out. Less than 24 hours later, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., sent a fundraising email to her supporters looking to raise $100,000 for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

  • This apparently was not an April Fool’s joke.

  • Roll Call’s Abby Livingston is on a quest to “examine the congressional representation of our favorite fictional characters in television, literature and the movies.”

  • BuzzFeed delivers animal doppelgangers for members of Congress.

  • And if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to live life as a merman, here’s your chance to find out.

  • TechCrunch covers PBS NewsHour’s partnership with ElectNext, which just secured $1.3 million in new funding. And see what the political baseball cards look like.

  • Today’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA: Since July 2012, Face the Facts has released 204 facts, the most popular being tax code complexity with nearly 47,497 views!

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • Mark Shields and David Brooks discussed the dismal jobs picture Friday night. Watch the conversation here or below:


  • And the guys joined Hari Sreenivasan for the Doubleheader to talk about redemption and South Carolina’s first district primary.

Watch that here or below:


BEST AND BRIGHTEST

Your Morning Line team took a little spring break of our own. Here’s the best of the NewsHour from last week.

  • Hari Sreenivasan talked with veterans and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki about the delays and backlog of medical claims at the Veterans Administration.

  • Judy sat down to talk with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor about her new book “Out of Order.” Watch that here.

  • You know you want to create a rap about science for the NewsHour’s project.

  • Wondering what you’ll do with the cicadas as they infest the East Coast this spring? Jenny Marder has some tasty recipes for you.

  • Hari examined a new study from Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, looking at how search engines can be manipulated for political gain.

TOP TWEETS

Politics desk assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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