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With Procedural Hurdle Cleared, Senate Begins Gun Debate

National Armory gun store; photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Gary Lampert of National Armory gun store in Pompano Beach, Fla., helps Cristiana Verro choose a firearm. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Gun control advocates hailed Thursday’s Senate vote allowing debate to move forward on a sweeping package of legislation as a victory for their movement. But things are just getting started, and any measures that curb access to guns are a long, long way from reaching President Barack Obama’s desk.

The 68-31 procedural vote sets up a lengthy debate on big questions: How expansive should a background check system be? Where should you be able to carry a weapon under your clothes? Should schools set up different protections? From here, it could take more than a week to get through the legislation. Senate Democrats said the first votes on amendments will be “early next week.”

Roll Call’s John Gramlich rounds up the five amendments to watch when the Senate returns Monday afternoon to pick up where lawmakers left off.

Thursday’s vote found 16 Republicans joining all but two Democrats to move forward.

(Of the 16 Republicans who voted in favor of bringing the measure up for debate, 13 have dined with the president in recent weeks, as Mr. Obama has sought to bridge differences with GOP lawmakers on guns, immigration and the budget.)

Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska were the lone Democrats opposing the procedural vote to begin debate. They have more in common than a first name; both hail from rural states with strong hunting cultures. Both are likely to maintain their spots in the 2014 midterm election’s top-tier of vulnerable Democratic incumbents.

Todd Zwillich of WNYC summed it up, telling the NewsHour on Thursday that advancing to debate doesn’t guarantee a thing.

“Republican senators didn’t want to be associated with obstruction,” he said. “They can do that procedural vote and not be in trouble with NRA. There are a lot of firewalls between now and something becoming law.”

Zwillich noted that some GOP senators who voted to move toward the debate “won’t ever” vote for the overall bill. “If you are a senator with a lifetime positive voting record from NRA, one vote proceeding to debate is not like voting for universal registry or something like that,” he said.

Zwillich said the presence of families and parents of the children killed in the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn., has shifted the conversation and is impacting how lawmakers view the issue. After what happened in Newtown, Aurora, Colo., and Tucson, Ariz., lawmakers “don’t want to be seen as not willing to be having a debate on the issue.”

NBC reports that former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in that Tucson shooting in 2011, will return to Capitol Hill next week. The gun safety group she and her husband Mark Kelly founded will begin robocalls in Pennsylvania and West Virginia in support of Sens. Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin, the Republican and Democrat, respectively, who forged bipartisan agreement on a background checks expansion.

Politico’s Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei have more on the Newtown families’ lobbying efforts this week:

When a lobbyist for families of Newtown shooting victims called the office of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to set up a meeting, the first response was a standard D.C. offer. They could get a meeting with her staff, and a quick and simple “hello” from Collins herself, they were told.

The families’ answer: Not good enough. According to their lobbyists, the families have a rule against staff-only meetings: they won’t do them. They insist on sitting down with the senators themselves.

That rule is just one of the ways that the Newtown families, political novices just a few months ago, are proving to be savvy, effective advocates as they promote the gun legislation that has finally begun to move through the Senate. The families are well-educated, and many are well-off.

They have been polished and sharp on TV. They’re mostly non-political, but quite accomplished in their own fields. With access to money and media, they’re using persistence, visibility — and, most all, their unique moral authority — to help prod Senate action. They also have their own lobbyists — several of them, in fact.

The Hill’s Russell Berman notes there has been scant effort to bring House Republicans along to support gun control measures, a major contrast with how senators are handling immigration overhaul.

The Washington Post examines how geography changes the political calculus on guns for members of Congress.

As the debate continues, the NewsHour has you covered.

Watch Judy Woodruff’s report on the issue here or below:

Cassie M. Chew pulled together an explainer of the legislation as it stands. You can also follow our comprehensive coverage of the gun debate here.


  • Politico’s Manu Raju reports Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is preparing to go “all-in” to support immigration reform. “Rubio is planning a media blitz to promote the bill — which is expected to be released early next week — making the rounds on all of the Sunday political talk shows starting this weekend, wooing skeptical conservative radio hosts and pitching the plan to Spanish-language news outlets,” Raju writes. The Associated Press reports the legislation “could bar anyone who arrived in the U.S. after Dec. 31, 2011, from applying for legal status and ultimately citizenship,” potentially excluding hundreds of thousands of people.

  • A Senate bill quietly passed Thursday that would exempt legislative and executive staffers from having their financial disclosure forms posted on the Internet, as stipulated by the STOCK Act, which was to take effect next week.

  • Virginia could join the growing list of states enacting stricter abortion measures this year when the commonwealth’s Board of Health votes on abortion clinic standards Friday.

  • The Progress Kentucky super PAC apparently taped the leaked campaign strategy meeting of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. BuzzFeed’s Evan McMorris-Santoro and Ruby Cramer ask if the liberal group is made up of perhaps the clumsiest Democrats in the world.

  • Supporters of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., took on establishment Republicans on the RNC’s rules committee at their spring meeting Thursday, voting to repeal the rule that winners of a state caucus receive all of that state’s delegates. Conservatives’ push to repeal all of the other rules changes enacted this summer failed.

  • An RNC vote Friday to reaffirm the party’s position on same-sex marriage is expected to succeed. While many establishment leaders have “evolved” on the issue, the vote will underscore evangelicals’ continued influence on the RNC’s governing body.

  • National Journal has a roundup of Senate fundraising ahead of the first quarter reporting deadline on April 15.

  • The New York Times’ John Broder notes that Republican senators were more interested in email accounts and research data than climate change and enforcement of environmental regulations at Thursday’s confirmation hearing for Gina McCarthy, Mr. Obama’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

  • Organizing for Action is telling supporters Friday that during the first quarter of the year, it had donations from 109,582 people, with the average amount of $44. The haul totaled $4.8 million, Politico reports.

  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress Thursday he backs closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

  • Maryland Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley says he’s considering running for president in 2016.

  • A Rutgers-Eagleton poll shows New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie leading Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono by 30 percentage points, down from 42 percentage points in February. Still, 80 percent of voters say Christie will win.

  • First lady Michelle Obama will deliver commencement addresses at Eastern Kentucky University on May 11, Bowie State University in Maryland on May 17 and Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet High School for Health Sciences and Engineering at Historic Pearl High in Nashville on May 18.

  • Yahoo! News headline: “Republicans bring in media specialists to teach them how to speak to women and minorities.”

  • It’s true, there will be an actual congressional hearing — spanning 30 hours — to investigate aliens. The ones from outer space.

  • Yes, this would be the White House press briefing clip of the year. And the RNC noticed that Jay-Z rapped about the Cuba trip.

  • Tennessee Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen sent — and deleted, according to the Politwoops blog — this tweet to Cyndi Lauper: “great night,couldn’t believe how hot u were.see you again next Tuesday.try a little tenderness.” Politico provides context.

  • Christina’s profile of Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and his practice of yoga and meditation is on the cover of the new edition of Mindful Magazine. Editor Barry Boyce explains the piece here.


  • We examined the fervor around Mr. Obama’s changes to entitlement programs in his budget proposal. Jeffrey Brown got three takes in a lively discussion with Joseph Antos of the American Enterprise Institute, Max Richtman of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Watch here or below:

  • Judy writes this week that buried in Mr. Obama’s 244-page budget document are “ideas that have consequences.” And, she adds, “If leading players in both parties start to discuss them, things could get exciting around here.”

  • Gwen Ifill reflects on the radical notion of Republicans and Democrats “actually talking for a change.” Oh, she also hung out with Justin Timberlake.

  • Cindy Huang looks at online dating based on religion.


Politics desk assistant Simone Pathe and Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

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

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