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Gun Policy Proposals Face Pressure From Senators

Family members of Newtown shooting victims step off Air Force One with President Obama upon arrival Monday at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Political pressure is no simple thing — especially when it comes to gun rights.

Senators face a major test this week on whether to enact stricter gun control measures, and the interest groups with a stake in the issue aren’t letting up. At the same time, families of gun violence victims will be in the Capitol to make their voices heard.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday the message those families carry to Washington from Newtown, Conn., is “very powerful.”

“So it’s been stated in recent weeks that somehow the memory of Newtown has faded, at least in Washington, and I think it’s important to remember for those families and for everyone in that community and for so many people across America, those memories will never fade,” Carney told reporters. “The pain will never go away. And it is the obligation of the members of Congress who stood and applauded when the president called on them to vote on these issues to live up to that applause when the cameras were on, and not to take the less courageous route by using procedural measures to block a vote.”

That was a reference, of course, to Republican plans to filibuster a legislative proposal on guns that is supposed to get a vote on the Senate floor this week.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced he would join a filibuster should the legislation reach the floor as it stands today. But, as the Post’s Ed O’Keefe reported on the NewsHour on Monday, the situation is fluid.

“His aides aren’t saying whether or not he would oppose any new bipartisan language that comes forth, but if the current Democratic bill is brought forth, he would stand in its way and join that big filibuster,” O’Keefe told Gwen Ifill.

Sahil Kapur of Talking Points Memo notes that McConnell’s filibuster threat may make a compromise bill more sympathetic to the National Rifle Asociation.

Still, there are forces at work to push legislation to the floor. Freshman Sen. Tim Kaine is urging the Senate to vote on gun legislation in an op-ed in the Virginian Pilot, writing that the power of the NRA is “overrrated.” Kaine continues, “I’ve run three statewide races in the NRA’s home state … I won all my races anyway.”

(Kaine has an “F” rating from the NRA, stemming in part from his support of the Million Mom March when he was mayor of Richmond.)

Tuesday marks the first time Senators have all been in Washington since New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s group began running television ads in some of their home states. And the political action committee is announcing it will issue letter grade scores on gun control, joining other influential groups — including the NRA — that use similar tactics to win elections. Bloomberg already has made clear he is glad to invest millions in the effort ahead of the 2014 midterm elections. Politico posted the group’s letter to all Senate and House chiefs of staffs here.

Philip Rucker had the scoop in the Post. Mayors Against Illegal Guns will include in the scorecard votes on background checks, concealed carry rules, assault weapons, high-capacity ammunition magazines and gun trafficking measures.

Rucker writes that Mayors Against Illegal Guns is stepping up its ad campaign with $1 million toward a new 60-second spot featuring Neil Heslin, whose son, Jesse Lewis, was killed in December’s elementary school massacre in Newtown. It will air in 10 states to pressure Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Daniel Coats, R-Ind., Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Kay Hagan, D-N.C., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Dean Heller, R-Nev., Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Mary Landrieu, D-La., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Mark Pryor, D-Ark. and Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa..

From Rucker’s story:

The group also this week will begin airing a new television ad statewide in Pennsylvania focused on Toomey, who quietly has been negotiating on a compromise on expanding background checks with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). The ad highlights Toomey’s past statements in support of the idea and urges Pennsylvanians to call his office to “demand action” when a background-check bill comes up for a vote in coming days.

The Washington Post and ProPublica crafted this interactive look at where each lawmaker stands and votes on gun issues, along with how they spend their campaign money.

President Barack Obama was far from subtle Monday night, speaking at the University of Hartford.

“We can pass common-sense laws that protect our kids and protect our rights,” he said, adding that Connecticut’s new gun control laws have “shown the way.”

“This week is the time for Congress to do the same,” Mr. Obama said. “[S]ome folks back in Washington are already floating the idea that they may use political stunts to prevent votes on any of these reforms. Think about that. They’re not just saying they’ll vote ‘no’ on ideas that almost all Americans support. They’re saying they’ll do everything they can to even prevent any votes on these provisions. They’re saying your opinion doesn’t matter. And that’s not right.”

During his briefing Monday, Carney further suggested that Mr. Obama’s State of the Union speech makes for a unique backdrop to apply pressure to wavering Senators.

“[I]f there’s a member of Congress who’s contemplating filibustering some of this, it would be interesting to see if they stood and applauded at the State of the Union address when the president said that these victims deserve a vote,” he said. “And regardless, if they oppose this legislation, have the courage to say so on the floor and vote no. Don’t block it. Don’t hide behind a procedural action to prevent a vote. That’s the wrong thing to do.”

Watch the president’s remarks in full below.

Mr. Obama’s campaign spinoff, Organizing for Action, on Monday launched an online ad campaign on Facebook and search engines to pressure senators on universal background checks. They focus on the same group as Mayors Against Illegal Guns, plus Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Susan Collins of Maine, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Ted Cruz of Texas.

Gun rights groups aren’t taking the issue in stride. Politico looks closely at the efforts of the National Association for Gun Rights and others who are applying pressure of their own.

On the NewsHour Monday, we examined state-by-state gun control efforts, along with states that have expanded gun rights. Gwen talked with an Arkansas legislator who has authored bills allowing gun owners to carry their weapons more freely, and a Maryland lobbyist who helped pass sweeping gun control measures — including an assault weapons ban, magazine limits and fingerprint registration — through that state’s legislature.

Watch the segment here or below:

The White House isn’t done with its push for federal legislation. Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday afternoon will join Attorney General Eric Holder as they urge Congress “to pass common-sense measures to reduce gun violence,” the White House says. They’ll be joined by law enforcement officials who will talk about gun safety measures.

With no clear path for a vote and an amorphous legislative package that hinges on a compromise between Toomey and Manchin, lawmakers can only expect the pressure to build over the course of the week.


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Cassie M. Chew and 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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