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Amy Walter and Tamara Keith on Congress’ gun struggle

Is political momentum building for some greater gun restrictions? Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR join Lisa Desjardins to discuss President Trump’s influence and mixed messages on the subject, as well as a primary challenge for California Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

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  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And imagine this, national, important issues rife with political divide. Oh, it must be time for Politics Monday.

    Hello, Tamara Keith, of course, from NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Reporter.

    Thank you very much.

    We just heard a lot, of course, about Russia, but let's go back to the top topic of the show tonight, and that's guns.

    Tamara Keith, things seem to be moving fast in terms of coverage and rhetoric. Democrats on Capitol Hill are now saying this kind of bill that they were perhaps going to support, that now they say it's too watered-down, that it just supports the current background checks. They want more.

    What can happen, do you think, on guns in Congress?

  • Tamara Keith:

    It's a very good question and it's one that we don't fully have the answer to yet.

    There does seem to be some coalescing on the Republican side around something related to school safety, but it's not clear what that would be exactly, and this smaller, more narrow Fix NICS bill is what it's called, which basically just requires state, local, federal agencies to put people into the background check system, as they are currently required to do, gives some incentives for that.

    That had been a problem in the Texas shooting, that church shooting several months ago.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Amy, in the midst of all this, as Congress — and we see Republicans and Democrats returning to town — I think I can hear their planes landing behind me at Washington National Airport.

    President Trump has actually done something different this time. He's gotten out in front. He's said more than Republican leaders in Congress on this issue so far, initially indicating in a tweet last week he wanted an age limit. Now it's not as clear, today back and forth on the NRA.

    What does President Trump want and how does that matter?

  • Amy Walter:

    Exactly. What the president wants is really unclear, because, as we have seen on almost any major issue that has gone in front of Congress, whether it's health care or the DACA issue, or now on guns, the president takes multiple positions in Twitter, in front of the press, privately to members of Congress, privately to governors, and then it leaves folks on Capitol Hill, especially Republican allies on Capitol Hill, really wondering what the marching orders are.

    What are we supposed to advocate for? Because we don't quite know where the president is.

    And I think that Tam is exactly right. What's clear that's happening on Capitol Hill right now is Democrats feel really emboldened by the energy and enthusiasm from more gun control folks, you know, people who are really energized and engaged in a way they haven't seen before.

    There is a new polling out showing a new energy on this issue. People like Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, think, we need to go father. We don't have to just get half-a-loaf, we can get the full loaf.

    Meanwhile, there are a whole bunch of Republicans who say, oh, no, no, no, no, this goes much, much too far. That's never going to fly in our red states. It's not just as much just that the NRA is popular, but the issue of guns in red states even among Democrats is still one that's very important.

    So I think you're going to see that getting something that's a compromise once again become very difficult.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Here's a thought experiment. This is an election year. November 2018, all of these Republican congresspeople are going to be up for reelection. They're going to run on the tax bill that they passed last year.

    Are they also going to say, and we went up against the NRA, we went further than the NRA had wanted us to go and further than, you know, our voters wanted us to go, and we did all of this stuff on gun control?

    It's hard to imagine Republican elected officials running on gun control.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But it is easy to imagine, I think, some Democrats running on that.

  • Tamara Keith:


  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And I kind of want to get beyond the politics here. It feels like a very us vs. them momentum is building. Almost reminds me in some ways of the abortion debate, the passion, the energy, but also the really sharp divide.

    You wrote a great piece last week, Amy, saying it's not just about the NRA. Can you take us a little deeper on what's going on here, what the motivations are?

  • Amy Walter:


    I think there's a cultural issue here. As you pointed out, about, I think, is a good opposite of that, as you could think about it. We talk so much about the NRA when we talk about guns. We spend not as much time the;looking about people who either are gun owners, may not be part of the NRA, or people who live in areas or who are a part of a cohort who believe that guns are fundamental to their safety and their sense of freedom.

    It's a core value set to them. And I think when it gets into this debate about the Florida is manipulating people, the NRA is all-powerful and is controlling the legislative agenda, it misses the fact that there are real people out there who hold these views, that are very passionate about these views.

    And, in fact, the challenge for gun rights folks for a long time has been that the intensity on gun issues has been decidedly toward the — I'm sorry — has been on the gun rights side, not on the gun control side, almost by a 2-1 margin.

    Pew found a few years ago when asking people who own guns, people who don't own guns, have you ever contacted an official and talked about this issue specifically, 21 percent of gun owners said yes. Only 12 percent of non-gun owners said yes.

    What the real question is, when it comes to the political piece, is that number going to change because of what we saw in Florida?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    All this is happening in, oh, an election year. Right?

    And, Tamara Keith, you just came back from a bright blue state, California, Fresno, where something very interesting happened to the state's longest serving Democratic official, Dianne Feinstein.

    Her Democratic Party over the weekend voted not to endorse her. Why is that? Do we read anything more into this?

  • Tamara Keith:

    And it wasn't that they voted not to endorse her. It's that they couldn't coalesce behind a candidate.

    She has a challenger in the primary, Kevin de Leon, who is also a Democrat. And he got more support than she did from the state party at their state party convention. He didn't get the 60 percent that he needed to get the endorsement.

    But Dianne Feinstein has long had this issue in California where she has been seen more moderate than her very bright blue liberal state. And that energy is reflected in the activists that are part of the state Democratic Party.

  • Amy Walter:


  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Got it.

    And, Amy, I want ask you quickly. Democrats say they're targeting 100 seats. Is that realistic? Is it risky? Or is maybe a sign of a pulse? What is that?

  • Amy Walter:

    I think what they're showing you is that they have intensity and they want to take advantage of that.

    Intensity is a very terrible thing to waste. And Democrats have it in fund-raising, they have it in candidate recruitment, and they're seeing it in the polls. So why not spread it as far and wide? They're not going to win all those districts. They're probably not going to be able to invest in a lot of those districts.

    But you might get a surprise or two. Only need 24 seats.


  • Amy Walter:

    Right. It's easier to get 24 seats out of 100 than trying to win 24 out of 40 seats.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You can miss when you shoot 100 and you need only 24.

  • Amy Walter:

    Correct. All right.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    All right, very good.

    Amy Walter of The Cook Political Reporter, Tamara Keith of NPR, thank you both very much.

  • Amy Walter:

    You're very welcome.

  • Tamara Keith:

    You're welcome.

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