Zero Pressure on House After Senate Gun Bill Disintegrates
Posted at 6 a.m. on April 18
The failure of a background check amendment Wednesday in the Senate immediately deflated any mounting political pressure on the Republican majority in the House to embrace new gun control regulations.
President Barack Obama sternly vowed to maintain pressure on Congress, and bipartisan House legislation was introduced just Tuesday. But with the compromise reached by Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va, and Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., going down in flames after key Democrats joined with most Republicans to deny their proposal the requisite 60 votes, gun control faces an uncertain future in the House, where most Republicans are philosophically and politically disinclined to support expanded background checks.
“We need to take the issue up; America wants to feel like their streets are safer. I don’t think they’re willing to give up freedoms that accomplish nothing,” Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., said in regard to Manchin-Toomey. When asked if the failure of the amendment damaged the prospects for new gun control measures in the House, Pearce added that “I would guess that to be true, but that’s not a calculation [I make].”
Even before the expanded background check proposal died, its companion bill, sponsored by Reps. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., and Mike Thompson, D-Calif., was saddled with long odds.
My colleague Jonathan Strong reported Wednesday that their strategy in part was to generate enough political support for their legislation such that Speaker John A. Boehner and the House GOP leadership would have felt compelled to break the “Hastert rule” again, and bring the bill on the floor so that it could clear with the votes of most Democrats but less than a majority of Republicans.
“Perhaps the only way it could pass — a scenario that Democratic and Republican sponsors hinted at in a statement announcing their effort — is if Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio brings the bill to the House floor in violation of the “Hastert rule,” which requires the support of a majority of Republicans,” Strong wrote.
But on an issue as heartfelt as gun control — an issue that often defines a politician’s political philosophy and sometimes his or her party affiliation, that strategy was destined to fail even if the bipartisan measure succeeded. The blowback from the rank and file would have been uncontrollable, to say nothing of the retaliation from influential conservative advocacy groups and the threat of getting primaried (and I’m not just talking about the National Rifle Association).
House GOP leaders have said repeatedly that they would review anything the Senate passed and sent over for consideration on the south end of Capitol Hill, and that was still the company line late Wednesday.
But after a Democratic president was unable to help push Manchin-Toomey across the finish line in a Democratic Senate, House Republicans are unlikely to fear any political repercussions for their widespread opposition to beefed-up background checks, not to mention other new gun control regulations. It’s also less likely, now, that the administration or congressional Democrats will recruit a healthy number of Republican defectors to join with them on this issue.
Particularly in the House, politics is a team sport. And, if you can’t dangle the prospect of winning, much less bring political pressure to bear, motivating a politician to take a risky vote is that much harder, if not impossible.