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Senate to Take Key Vote on Guns

Grave markers on the National Mall; photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Volunteers place grave markers on the National Mall Thursday to remember victims of gun violence. Clergy from Newtown, Conn., and elsewhere will begin a 24-hour vigil to urge Congress into passing tougher gun laws. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

The U.S. Senate is expected to take a key procedural vote Thursday that would pave the way for debate to begin on new gun legislation, including a bipartisan proposal to expand background checks that was unveiled Wednesday.

Family members of Sandy Hook shooting victims will spend a third day on Capitol Hill lobbying lawmakers in support of tougher gun control measures, while the Obama administration is working in public and behind the scenes to boost the legislation’s prospects.

Vice President Joe Biden told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in an appearance taped Wednesday that when it comes to gun legislation, members of Congress are playing catch-up with their constituents.

“This is one of the cases where the public is so far ahead of the elected officials. I mean, so far ahead,” Biden said. “You saw it in immigration. You saw it in marriage issues. You’re seeing it now. The public has moved to a different place. And there is not one single thing we are suggesting, not one, the administration, in our proposal, not one single thing that anyone can make even a prima facie case that it impacts on the Second Amendment.”

(Gun legislation was also a topic of discussion Wednesday evening when President Barack Obama and a dozen GOP senators gathered at the White House for dinner.)

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Thursday found that 55 percent of Americans back stricter laws for the sale of firearms. That was down six points from February, following the Mr. Obama’s call for a vote on measures to address gun violence in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

The survey showed a sharp split among the two major political parties, with 82 percent of Democrats favoring tougher gun measures, but just 27 percent of Republicans saying the same. The gap in those numbers could foreshadow trouble ahead as debate on gun legislation moves forward.

The major breakthrough Wednesday came from the announcement that Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., had reached a deal on a plan to expand background checks for firearm purchases at gun shows and over the Internet.

“I don’t consider criminal background checks to be gun control. I think it’s just common sense,” Toomey told reporters. “If you pass a criminal background check, you get to buy a gun. It’s no problem. It’s the people who fail a criminal or a mental health background check that we don’t want having guns.”

The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe and David Fahrenthold examined the role Manchin played in spearheading the agreement on background checks:

For Manchin, that agreement was the payoff from months of relationship-building with Republicans, including nights of pizza and beer on a senator-stuffed boat called the Black Tie. The final deal was worked out over the past week, and concluded late Tuesday with a huddle at a rooftop birthday party for TV host Joe Scarborough.

There, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) agreed to support the proposal — but to skip the news conference so his enemies would not become the bill’s enemies.

Roll Call’s Meredith Shiner also took note of Schumer’s absence from the Toomey-Manchin news conference, despite his co-sponsoring of the background check provision. She reports:

Toomey, the former Club for Growth president, had told Manchin he would not speak at the news conference if he had to get on stage with Schumer, according to two sources familiar with the talks. Schumer obliged, and Kirk also agreed not to appear in order to provide cover to Schumer.

Despite showcasing just Manchin and Toomey, both of whom have received “A” ratings from the National Rifle Association, the compromise was rejected by the gun rights organization.

“Expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools,” the NRA said in a statement.

Chris Cox, the group’s executive director, also wrote a letter to lawmakers putting them on notice that their “votes on all anti-gun amendments or proposals will be considered in NRA’s future candidate evaluations.”

“This includes the misguided ‘compromise’ proposal drafted by Senators Joe Manchin, Pat Toomey and Chuck Schumer,” Cox wrote.

Groups on the left are also seeking to ramp up pressure ahead of Thursday’s vote.

The Democratic National Committee launched a website aimed at blocking a potential Republican filibuster in the Senate, urging supporters of tougher gun laws to tweet at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

For the third day this week examining the guns issue, the NewsHour on Wednesday zeroed in on urban violence. Judy Woodruff spoke with Paul Barrett, author of “Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun” and assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek magazine, and Del McFadden, outreach coordinator for the Columbia Heights-Shaw Collaborative in Washington, D.C.

Both noted the risk factors in a community that may lead to violence. Still, Barrett said gun violence on the whole has lessened in the United States in recent years.

Watch the segment here or below:

For more gun policy-related coverage on the NewsHour this week, watch this segment on recent developments in Arkansas and Maryland and a discussion on background checks with national leaders from a sportsmen’s group and from law enforcement.


  • Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee is splitting with his party leadership, criticizing the inclusion of chained CPI in Mr. Obama’s budget.

  • The Senate approved REI chief executive Sally Jewell as interior secretary in an 87-to-11 vote Wednesday.

  • The Congressional Hispanic Caucus says it is encouraged by the Gang of Eight’s priorities in its forthcoming proposal for immigration reform.

  • Thursday’s Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing for EPA nominee Gina McCarthy is expected to showcase a new Republican assault on Mr. Obama’s second-term climate agenda.

  • House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, again violated the “Hastert Rule” by allowing a vote on something the majority of his majority didn’t support.

  • Virginia Republicans are expected to wage a multibillion dollar attack on Democrat Terry McAuliffe for Mitt Romney-like remarks that he created 100,000 jobs, National Journal says. On Wednesday, the Washington Post published comments from Virginia economic development leaders that McAuliffe’s company, GreenTech Automotive, was a “visa-for-sale scheme with potential national security implications.” (Remember this Mark Leibovich profile of McAuliffe, highlighting the cheery, bipartisan opening of GreenTech in the New York Times Magazine last July? McAuliffe has since resigned as the company’s chairman.)

  • As GOP activists head to Los Angeles for the RNC’s spring meeting Thursday, a group of state party leaders is planning to submit a marriage resolution, obtained by Yahoo! News, to “re-affirm conservative principles” on same-sex marriage.

  • A state representative in Texas is attempting to restrict airport security personnel from obtrusive pat downs.

  • Roll Call’s Kyle Trygstad highlights the top five House rematches to keep your eye on this cycle.

  • “I think we have a cacophany” on the Supreme Court during oral arguments, notably silent-on-the-bench Justice Clarence Thomas told a university crowd Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

  • In a speech Wednesday at Howard University, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., seemed to strike some common ground with the students, professors, alumni and community members of the historically black university. But he lost points after making remarks that didn’t give the audience — on a campus located four miles from Capitol Hill — credit for knowing the history of African-Americans and the GOP. A claim that he never opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 stirred up debate on Twitter. BuzzFeed has more.

  • The White House chef faces furloughs because of sequestration.

  • Dr. Benjamin Carson, the neurosurgeon who has found a political perch in right-wing outlets, has withdrawn from giving a graduation speech at Johns Hopkins University Medical School. He’s facing criticism after he compared gay people to supporters of pedophilia and bestiality.

  • There’s drama brewing between female members of Congress playing in the softball game against female members of the press. This year could mark the first time two women running for the same seat play on the same team. (Full disclosure: Christina is on the press team.)

  • Mr. Obama’s budget would rename the Corporation for National and Community Service after George. H.W. Bush and give it $10 million.

  • Sri Srinivasan’s nomination to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit seems uncontroversial after a Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, a shift from the Republican opposition many of Mr. Obama’s judicial nominees have faced.

  • “I never remember David obtaining a tape of something the principal said at a faculty meeting,” recalls New York Times reporter David Sanger about his White Plains High School classmate, David Corn. The Washington Post profiles the Mother Jones journalist in the wake of his second leaked recording scoop.

  • Mad Magazine has already designed Anthony Weiner’s mayoral campaign posters.


  • Kwame Holman reported on the release of Mr. Obama’s 2014 budget Wednesday, and Gwen Ifill followed with two interviews reacting to the proposal. Washington state Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the Republican Conference, struggled to name any winners in the budget proposal. Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council and an adviser to the president, highlighted that the proposal is more a compromise than an ideal solution. “Is it good for the American people?” he said. “That’s going to require everyone to give a little and be unhappy on a few measures.”

Here’s the coverage in full:


Christina Bellantoni, 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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