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“Rejecting The 60-Vote Senate”: Vote Your Conscience On Merits Of Bills, Don’t Vote Against Allowing A Vote

In discussing the handful of senators—quite a few of them Democratic—who hold the fate of gun legislation in their hands, WaPo’s Greg Sargent makes a crucial point that is all too often forgotten:

it needs to be restated that these Senators have the option of voting Yes on breaking the filibuster, while voting No on the final vote. In that scenario, the proposal would likely pass with a simple majority. And so, if these Senators continue to hold out, they need to be pressed on whether they really think a proposal that has the support of eight in 10 Americans doesn’t deserve a straight up or down vote, at a time when the Newtown slayings have focused public attention on a problem that continues to claim the lives of thousands of Americans per year. Whatever their final vote, there’s no excuse for them to enable and participate in GOP obstructionism of a proposal with near universal public support.

Amen to that. But I’d go further, as I argued at The Democratic Strategist back in 2009

My personal feeling is that supporting a filibuster against your own party and your own party’s president should be treated as a serious and rare measure on major issues of conscience where the sacrifice of some of the prerogatives of seniority are a small price to pay. So maybe that price really should be paid. But at a minimum, the practice of thinking of cloture votes as identical to substantive votes, and tolerating defections on the former as just the same as the latter, needs to come to an end. There is no sixty-Senate-vote requirement for the enactment of regular legislation in the Constitution or in the Senate rules. We don’t need lockstep Democratic unity on policy initiatives. We just need unity on the simple matter of allowing the Senate to vote.

If we are not going to have genuine filibuster reform—and apparently we aren’t so long as Harry Reid is the Democratic leader in the Senate—then at least Reid and others, including the president, should begin making this distinction in every communication with or about senators on significant legislation: vote your conscience on the merits of bills, but don’t vote against allowing a vote, or there will be consequences.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 16, 2013

April 17, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Escalating The War On Women”: New GOP Plan, Guns For Domestic Abusers

Every so often, disparate political events line up so perfectly that they create the possibility of real resonance. In these fleeting moments, a point which might have been lost to news cycle noise can break through and singularly shift momentum by introducing a new angle to an otherwise binary debate. President Obama’s Wednesday visit to Colorado could be one of those moments, thanks to the events surrounding his gun-control-themed trip.

In its preview story of the political week ahead, the New York Times notes that the president is “seek(ing) to regain momentum” on the gun issue as “a filibuster threat is growing in the senate” and as a two-week congressional recess is marked by a nationwide activist push by the National Rifle Association. To counter it, the president is heading to Colorado, a state made famous by two of the most high-profile gun massacres in history – and now the first state in the historically pro-gun West to pass serious gun regulations.

If that was all that was happening, this week might not hold much political potential. But in a coincidental turn of events, the president’s visit will occur at the very moment the Colorado Republican Party is making a high-profile effort to derail Democratic legislation that would disarm domestic abusers. That, of course, allows Democrats to portray the GOP as extreme on the gun control issue, to connect that specific issue to the Republican Party’s war on women – and to connect it in a state that has electorally punished the GOP for that war.

In terms of just sheer extremism, if ever there was a succinct, simple-to-understand bumper-sticker-ready metric for understanding the fringe-iness of today’s Republican Party, the fight in the Colorado legislature over gun rights for domestic abusers is it. As the Denver bureau of the Huffington Post reports, the Colorado bill in question simply “prohibits gun possession from those convicted of certain felonies involving domestic violence or certain misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence (and) also prohibit guns from individuals subject to certain (domestic violence) protection orders.” According to a recent statewide poll in Colorado, that is a concept supported by 80 percent of voters – yet Republicans are opposed.

To truly appreciate the radicalism of that opposition, understand that longtime federal law already technically bans most of this. According to the New York Times, however, that federal statute “is rarely enforced” to the point where in 2012 prosecutors were willing to invoke it fewer than 50 times. In light of that negligence, state legislation to reaffirm the federal law would seem to be an easy way to do as the Republican Party so often rhetorically demands and better enforce existing gun statutes. Yet, that same GOP is nonetheless taking the side of domestic abusers and opposing the state legislation on the grounds that the restriction “is ripe for abuse.”

What’s amazing – and what evokes Democrats’ “war on women” meme – is the fact that Republicans don’t seem to see that what’s really “ripe for abuse” is guns in the hands of domestic abusers.

According to data compiled by the non-profit Futures Without Violence, “nearly one-third of all women murdered in the United States in recent years were murdered by a current or former intimate partner”; “of females killed with a firearm, almost two-thirds of were killed by their intimate partners”; and “access to firearms increases the risk of intimate partner homicide more than five times more than in instances where there are no weapons.” Likewise, the Violence Policy Center reports that “for every time a woman used a handgun to kill an intimate acquaintance in self-defense, 83 women were murdered by an intimate acquaintance with a handgun.”

Because of these facts, it should be no surprise that polls show women are disproportionately sympathetic to the gun control argument. It should also be no surprise that because of the obvious connection between domestic abuse and firearm violence, banning domestic abusers from owning firearms can have demonstrably positive results. For instance, as the New York Times reports, “a study in the journal Injury Prevention in 2010 examined so-called intimate-partner homicides in 46 of the country’s largest cities from 1979 to 2003 and found that where state laws restricted gun access to people under domestic-violence restraining orders, the risk of such killings was reduced by 19 percent.”

Put all of this together – the political dynamics, the “war on women” meme, the urgent need for the gun control legislation itself – and this week could be the start of a big shift in the gun debate and in the larger electoral struggle between the parties heading into 2014.

Think about it: the president is swooping in to the home of Columbine and Aurora to draw national attention to the gun extremism of the Republican Party – and he will be able to point right to the state capitol where that Republican Party is opposing legislation to simply enforce federal law that is supposed to be protecting women from gun-wielding domestic abusers. Not only that, he will be in the state where Democrats’ have most maximized their inherent advantage with women.

That last point is significant. Out of all the swing states in America where political themes are test marketed, Colorado has been the one where Democrats’ claim of a Republican “war on women” has most powerfully resonated at the polls. This is the state where the GOP lost an eminently winnable senate race in 2010 thanks to their candidate pulling an early version of Todd Akin and making hideously flippant remarks about rape. It is also the state where the GOP lost 9 eminently winnable electoral votes after the Obama campaign specifically hammered the Republican Party for its extreme positions on contraception and a woman’s right to choose. Now, following the trend, it is a state whose GOP is using its legislative power to defend the alleged rights of domestic abusers to remain armed.

That’s why, as mentioned before, President Obama’s visit may not be just about this week – thematically, it may also be about beginning to make the Colorado political template the national Democratic Party’s mid-term election template.

Party operatives clearly know that, as TalkingPointsMemo recently reported, polls suggest that “women who don’t usually vote in midterm elections will turn out in 2014 over the issue of guns.” All those operatives need to realize that prediction is for Republicans to offer up some good ol’ fashioned extremism. By opposing Democratic legislation to disarm domestic abusers right as a president is drawing national attention to the need for gun regulations, the GOP seems more than happy to oblige.

By: David Sirota, Salon, April 1, 2013

April 2, 2013 Posted by | Domestic Violence, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Bridge Too Far”: GOP Sees Background Checks As Too Much Paperwork

Before the Senate left for their spring recess, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made clear what he and his party expect of legislation to reduce gun violence. While he said several key provisions are negotiable, “[I]n order to be effective, any bill that passes the Senate must include background checks.”

At least on the surface, it would seem to be the most difficult provision to oppose. Expanded background checks enjoy extraordinary levels of public support, even among gun owners, and there are no constitutional concerns to speak of. Critics of the idea have generally been reduced to making up nonsense and conspiracy theories, unable to think of any substantive arguments.

It would seem, then, that expanded background checks would be the kind of measure that might actually pass. And yet, on the Sunday shows, Republican senators rejected the popular idea out of hand.

In this clip, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said closing the gun-show loophole is “a bridge too far” for most Senate Republicans. He added that the “paperwork requirements alone would be significant.”

The nation would like to reduce mass murders, but for some federal lawmakers, “paperwork requirements” have to take precedence?

Similarly, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was asked whether expanded background checks can survive in the Senate. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I don’t think it makes any sense. The current system is broken. Fix the current system.”

By “fix the current system,” Graham apparently envisions efforts to improve the existing background database while enforcing the law more diligently — that might be possible if Senate Republicans weren’t also blocking ATF from functioning effectively — all while leaving the massive gun-show loophole in place, on purpose.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 1, 2013

April 1, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Dead End That Is Public Opinion”: Action Works Best When It Makes Politicians Afraid

As the effort to enact new gun legislation hobbles along, liberals have noted over and over that in polls, 90 percent or so of the public favors universal background checks. In speaking about this yesterday, President Obama said, “Nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change.” Then Jonathan Bernstein explained that opinion doesn’t get political results, what gets results is action. I’d take this one step farther: what gets results is not action per se, but action that produces fear. I’ll explain in a moment, but here’s part of Bernstein’s argument:

See, the problem here is equating “90 percent in the polls” with “calling for change.” Sure, 90 percent of citizens, or registered voters, or whoever it is will answer in the affirmative if they’re asked by a pollster about this policy. But that’s not at all the same as “calling for change.” It’s more like…well, it is receiving a call. Not calling.

Those people who have been pushing for marriage equality? They were calling for change. And marching for it, demanding it, donating money to get it, running for office to achieve it and supporting candidates who would vote for it, filing lawsuits to make it legal. In many cases, they based their entire political identity around it.

Action works. “Public opinion” is barely real; most of the time, on most issues, change the wording of the question and you’ll get entirely different answers. At best, “public opinion” as such is passive. And in politics, passive doesn’t get results.

Politicians are constantly assessing public opinion in ways both formal (polls) and informal (talking to folks, reading the paper, etc.). From their perspective, opinion is complex and multi-dimensional. It has a direction, an intensity, and a relationship to action. It can’t be reduced to one number. And the most important question for them is when opinion can turn into something that threatens them. Right now, that 90 percent figure doesn’t seem to be making too many politicians scared.

If you’re an interest group or a voting bloc, it’s far, far better to be feared than loved. If a politician loves you, he’ll say, “Hey guys, you know I love you, but you’re just going to have to wait on this priority of yours. I promise we’ll get around to addressing it next year.” If a politician fears you, he’ll say, “OK! OK! I’ll do what you want, just don’t hurt me!” The NRA has understood this well, which is why it has spent years working to convince everyone that it can destroy any politician it chooses (as you know, I’ve argued at length that that image is a myth, but the myth’s existence is undeniable). It spends far less time convincing politicians that being in line with the NRA produces wonderful benefits. It’s basically a protection racket; when the local mobster comes into your shop and says, “Nice place you’ve got here. Shame if someone were to burn it down,” the shop owner doesn’t say, “At last! I’m so glad you came to keep me safe!” He isn’t happy about it, but he pays up.

So action works best when it actually makes politicians afraid. It’s a way of getting politicians’ attention, and convincing them that if they don’t go along, they might be risking their jobs. Right now, for instance, politicians in both the Democratic and Republican parties are becoming afraid to be on the wrong side on marriage equality. It isn’t just because of poll results showing a majority of the public in favor; that’s just a number, albeit a significant one. The reason they’re afraid is that they understand this is going to become a culturally defining issue that before long will have the power to end people’s careers. They fear that their position on marriage equality could come to define their entire identity, carrying with it a whole set of judgments people will make about them. You’re seeing all this movement now—Democrats coming out in favor of marriage equality, Republicans stumbling around without a clue as to where they should position themselves—because there’s a collective realization that this is a key moment. And they’re afraid. There’s no question that in the wake of Newtown, members of Congress are less afraid of the NRA than they have been in the past. But the real question is whether they’re afraid of not passing something like background checks. And the answer so far is, not yet they aren’t.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, March 29, 2013

March 30, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Marriage Equality | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Absolute Opposition”: How The NRA Is Helping To Pass Gun Control

We’re in the early stages of a lengthy process that will involve hearings, competing bills, horse-trading, and the usual ugliness of life in the Capitol Hill sausage factory, but the contours of gun legislation are beginning to take shape. Though President Obama is out campaigning for the full package of reforms he has been advocating, there are indications that the assault weapons ban may get dropped in order to forestall a Republican filibuster in the Senate, and a bipartisan group is about to introduce a bill in the House on gun trafficking and straw purchases. (I’ll discuss the assault weapons question in a later post). In other words, the actual legislative process is getting underway.

And though it’s by no means assured that some gun measures will pass Congress, if any do, we’ll partly have the NRA to thank. That’s because, I believe, the organization fundamentally misread the role it plays in the minds of the average voter. They’ve become more extremist in the last two decades, but most people didn’t realize it, because unless you’re a member and are getting their magazines and emails or seeing their representatives appear at conventions, you had no idea just how extreme they’d become. So the idea that the NRA is just the guardian of Americans’ gun rights could persist. An average gun owner who saw that the NRA endorsed a candidate could say, whatever else he thought of that candidate, “I suppose he’s all right when it comes to guns.” But now that Wayne LaPierre has been appearing on television shows, the whole country has gotten to see just what a maniac he is, and how extreme the organization has become. And now that there are concrete proposals on the table, voters can see that the NRA will oppose even universal background checks, which every opinion poll taken in the last couple of months has shown are supported by an astonishing 90 percent of the public. When even the host of Fox News Sunday is calling your arguments “ridiculous” and “nonsense,” you’ve got a problem.

So now, members of Congress who just a few months ago would never have considered bucking the NRA on anything may realize that it isn’t that much of a risk to oppose them on a particular measure, provided it has wide public support. Instead of worrying that they’ll be branded “anti-gun” for disagreeing with the NRA on anything, they may be saying to themselves that if they’ve got the public behind them, it may not be such a risk after all to support something like universal background checks.

The NRA’s model of influence—absolute opposition to any measure to restrict guns combined with apocalyptic rhetoric aimed at its supporters—worked as long as the gun issue was out of the spotlight. But now that we’re having an actual debate, things have changed. It’s becoming clear that while they represent a certain portion of gun owners, they definitely don’t speak for all gun owners, which is what they’d like legislators to believe. And that may provide just enough of an opening for legislation to pass.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 5, 2013

February 6, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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