Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 31, 2014

April 30, 2013

Second Chance for Manchin-Toomey Gun Bill?

Do-overs resurrecting legislation that failed the first time are a pretty rare phenomenon in Congress. But Joe Manchin III is predicting that he and Patrick J. Toomey will be able to find the five votes they need to advance their background check expansion proposal a second time around.

A wave of polling in the two weeks since the Senate gun control measure first foundered is offering a decent road map for where to start their search.

Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said on Fox News over the weekend that “some confusion” about the measure contributed to its initial defeat. President Barack Obama has gone further, alleging the National Rifle Association and others “willfully lied” in arguing the measure would lead inexorably to a national registry of gun owners.

But if Manchin and his Pennsylvania Republican partner devote some time to educating close-call colleagues about the reach of their proposal, he says, they will prevail. “The only thing that we’ve asked for is that people would just read the bill,” he said. “It’s a criminal and mental background check strictly at gun shows and online sales.”

Whatever their persuasive skills, the pair will also be aided by polling in states represented by some of the last senators who got off the fence and voted against the background check vote.

Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm, released results Monday of recent surveys showing declines in the favorability numbers for a handful of senators who signaled they were at least considering a “yes” vote but in the end voted “no.”

In Arizona, background checks were favored by 70 percent but the approval rating for Jeff Flake, who won his seat last fall with just above 50 percent, was pegged at only 32 percent. And, by a 21-point margin, those polled said they trusted John McCain, one of the four GOP senators who voted for the background check measure, more than Flake on gun issues.

In Alaska, both senators’ approval ratings have declined sharply since the last PPP survey in February. Both Democrat Mark Begich, who was one of four red-state Democrats who voted against the legislation and faces a tough battle for a second term next year, and Republican Lisa Murkowski saw their approval ratings slip by 8 points — his to 41 percent and hers to 46 percent.

In Nevada, 46 percent of of voters said they would be less likely to back Republican Dean Heller, who just won a full term, because of his “no” vote.

The new PPP numbers come a week after the firm released a poll showing 75 percent support for background checks in New Hampshire but a 15-point plunge in the approval rating for Republican Kelly Ayotte from October to when she voted against the background check language.

April 29, 2013

Obama’s New Cabinet Is Just as Diverse but No More Powerful

ObamaFoxx042913 445x275 Obamas New Cabinet Is Just as Diverse but No More Powerful

Foxx, left, will have no more sway over creating a guest worker program as Transportation secretary than if he remains as mayor of Charlotte. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

With Congress away, President Barack Obama looks ready to grab some easy headlines this week by announcing his choices to sit on the last three empty shelves in his Cabinet.

If all goes according to expectation, he’ll end up with a group just slightly more demographically diverse than the team that was with him when he won re-election. But outside their formalized spheres of power, they’ll have no more influence over legislation or administration policy than the Cabinet members of Obama’s first term or, for that matter, of any such group during the past couple of decades.

And so any senators who may consider fretting about a Cabinet confirmation vote can confine the worry to the topics in the official job description.

If he gets to be Transportation secretary, as Obama proposed on Monday, Anthony Foxx would have no more sway over creating a guest worker program than he would have if he’d stayed mayor of Charlotte, N.C. Maybe less, given how important immigrant labor is to the North Carolina economy.

If the president asks and the Senate agrees to let Penny Pritzker move into the grandest of the corner offices at the Commerce Department, she will have less influence over the potential intervention in Syria than she would have had she remained a politically active and generous philanthropist. And she’ll have none of clout shaping school policy that she had in her last post, on the Chicago Board of Education.

The Cabinet is one of the government’s most misunderstood institutions. It’s mentioned nowhere in the Constitution and its membership has been evolving on the whims of presidents since George Washington. Full story

Why CISPA Is This Year’s Acronym Lightning Rod

It’s becoming an annual pattern: Congress starts moving legislation that would boost federal powers in the digital world without generating much attention around the metaphorical Capitol Hill water cooler, only to find out that the proposal is gaining outsized notice — and outrage — in the real world.

Such was the case last year with legislation that aimed to crack down on Internet piracy, known as SOPA in the House and PIPA in the Senate. Public anger blossomed so quickly and furiously that both bills were shelved without a vote.

This year’s bill has a different aim — to help federal intelligence agencies and businesses share information about threats to their computer networks — and goes by a different acronym, CISPA. And, so far, it’s fared better, getting through the House on a wave of bipartisan support almost big enough to override a potential presidential veto.

But that was 10 days ago, and members back home for this week’s recess are already reporting that constituents are raising a fuss about the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. It sometimes even exceeds their interest in talking about immigration, gun control or the sequester. Once again, tea party conservatives and ACLU liberals are united in their shared libertarian anxieties about a big-brother government getting too easy access to personal and financial information.

One of the bill’s authors is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence panel, C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, whose sprawling Maryland district meanders into the outer-D.C. suburbs. He says he’s been threatened with retaliation by the hacking group  “Anonymous.” That’s why the prospects for the legislation were the topic of my most recent conversation with WAMU, the NPR affiliate in Washington. You can read about the discussion or listen to it here.

April 26, 2013

FAA Sequester Reprieve: The Start of Things to Come?

Congress moved quickly today toward putting a stop to the air-traffic-controller furloughs. It won’t be the last such backstop effort to skirt the dreaded sequester knife, though it may be the fastest.

Today’s action means that lawmakers will be subjected to only one more sequester-delayed trip home, and perhaps they won’t be buffeted by town-meeting turbulence during the coming recess. But members are sure to be chastised for making an exception to their tough budget rules that only makes life more convenient for themselves and their business constituents.

The House arranged this morning for expedited enactment of legislation the Senate passed Thursday night, albeit on a rushed voice vote after several budgetary hard-liners at each end of the political spectrum had left town.

Now that one relatively small rifle shot has found its mark. And with no reason to believe there will be progress before summer on a sequester-replacing budget deal, there is every reason to believe that May will be filled with well-lobbied lawmaker appeals to relax the across-the-board strictures at other agencies, from the National Institutes of Health to the National Park Service.

Had the hardliners been around, the ad hoc approach to relaxing the across-the-board cuts would have prompted outraged rhetoric from conservative Republicans, who view acceptance of all the indiscriminate but meaningful spending curbs as a decent price to pay for shrinking government; and liberal Democrats, who want the sequester turned off altogether as a way to help a range of people who are feeling the pinch.

The White House echoed that sentiment in a statement announcing that President Barack Obama would sign the bill. “We hope Congress will find the same sense of urgency and bipartisan cooperation to help the families who have had children kicked out of Head Start, the seniors who have lost access to Meals On Wheels, the hard-working employees who have been laid off due to defense cuts, and the 750,000 Americans who have lost a job or won’t find one because of the sequester.”

Republican leaders crowed that the angry reaction — from the passengers on about a thousand delayed flights every day this week — had forced an unusually quick and complete capitulation by Obama and the Democrats, who had been emphatically opposed to taking this sort of piecemeal approach.

“Consider that the Democrats opening position was they would only replace the sequester with tax increases,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in a message to his caucus this morning; then they “proposed replacing the whole sequester with phony war savings. And by last night, Senate Democrats were adopting our targeted ‘cut this, not that’ approach.”

The bill doesn’t ease the $637 million in savings the Federal Aviation Administration has to come up with by September as its share of the sequester’s $85 billion grand total. Instead, it allows the agency to cover the cost of fully staffing all the air traffic control towers by trimming as much as $237 million from other accounts for less pressing projects.

That sort of flexibility is generally prohibited under the terms of the law, which was designed to be so mindlessly draconian that lawmakers would come up with some alternative budget solution in time. They may yet, one pet program at a time.

April 25, 2013

Gangs in Congress Go Where Partisans Fear to Tread

immigration 115 041813 445x295 Gangs in Congress Go Where Partisans Fear to Tread

The Senate “gang of eight” unveiled its bipartisan immigration bill at a packed news conference earlier this month. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Here’s a bit of Hill news that registered barely a ripple Thursday, in light of all the more pressing matters of the moment: Four top senators are renewing talks on what to do with the nation’s nuclear garbage.

Nothing to shout about, one might say, though the backstory offers insight into one of the defining characteristics of the current Congress: It’s overrun by gangs. Their outside-the-system approach to doing legislative business seems to be working as well as anything else at the moment.

Decades of planning to bury the country’s radioactive waste inside Yucca Mountain came to a halt four years ago, after Sen. Harry Reid made plain he’d spend all his political capital as Senate majority leader to keep the stuff away from his Nevada constituents. But that NIMBY approach is spread far and wide through the Capitol, so there was little chance that any bottoms-up legislative edict could muster a majority.

In other words, an approach dictated by the leadership was not sustainable, but a solution assembled using the committee process was not achievable. And so another Senate gang was born. Full story

Mom to Jeb: ‘We’ve Had Enough Bushes’ in White House

Barbara Bush is getting ready to hear a sarcastic “Thanks a lot, Mom,” from both of her sons.

The former first lady declared this morning that she doesn’t think Jeb Bush will — or should — run for president in 2016 because “we’ve had enough Bushes.” In doing so, she not only complicated things for her second-born boy, who has signaled that he’s contemplating a bid for the Republican nomination next time, but simultaneously stole some of the warm headlines her first-born was expecting from the dedication of  his presidential library. Full story

April 24, 2013

Female Senators Bring Committee Chops to Obama Dinner

Tuesday night’s dinner may have been the most consequential one yet in President Barack Obama’s quest to cultivate a more collaborative and collegial second-term relationship with Congress.

And the president pulled it off by, in essence, crashing one of the most quietly powerful, and rare, bipartisan social gatherings in the capital: the meal shared every month or so by the 20 women of the Senate.

Rather than traipse out to the suburban Virginia home of Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, whose turn it was to host, the president invited the group over to the White House at the last minute — but asked if they could have the Alaskan halibut the senator had already arranged to ship in for the occasion. (The provenance of the peach pie was not disclosed.)

All 16 Democrats and four Republicans showed up, even though a couple had initially begged off because of scheduling problems. And, in keeping with the ground rules for their regular suppers, none spoke to reporters when the two-hour gathering broke up just before 9 p.m. The president’s press office said the group discussed the budget impasse, Obama’s job creation agenda, his proposal for federally funded universal preschool, the growing momentum for the bipartisan “gang of eight” immigration overhaul, last week’s defeat of his gun control agenda and the federal investigations and prosecutions in the Boston Marathon bombings.

For a couple of reasons, the meal held as much potential to benefit the president’s agenda as any of his earlier senatorial soirees.

Most tangibly, Obama’s guests control more legislative firepower than the clusters of senators at his three previous gatherings; eight Senate committees are currently led by females. Beyond that, there is a growing appearance the 20 are cultivating the sort of genuinely collegial, non-ideological, professional friendships that have become close to extinct in recent years — the sort of bonds that, in the eyes of so many veterans of the culture of Washington before the 1990s, were essential to making legislative compromise the norm rather than the exception back in the day. In addition, there is some research to support the “men are form Mars, women are from Venus” notion that female politicians are more regularly driven to achieve consensus than their male counterparts.

The guest lists for the other meals were assembled mainly in search of senators willing to compromise; five female Democrats were at the Jefferson Hotel supper a week ago, and three women attended Obama’s two meals with GOP senators.

Separate invitations to the president for one of the female senators’ dinners had been extended in recent months by Murkowski and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. The ritual was the initial brainchild of the longest-serving woman in Congress, Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland.

The seven chairwomen in the room were: Appropriations’ Mikulski, Budget’s Patty Murray of Washington, Agriculture’s Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Indian Affairs’ Maria Cantwell of Washington, Intelligence’s Dianne Feinstein of California, Small Business and Entrepreneurship’s Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Barbara Boxer of California, chairwoman of both the Ethics and Environment and Public Works committees.

The other nine Democratic senators are: Gillibrand, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

The four Republicans are Murkowski, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine and Deb Fischer of Nebraska.

April 23, 2013

Lame-Duck Baucus Is an Extra Long Shot for Tax Overhaul

When Montana’s Max Baucus first became chairman of the Senate Finance Committee a dozen years ago, a colleague of mine on the tax beat worked this  telling observation into her profile: His remarks in public were so halting, she wrote, that he often appeared as if “still reflecting on what he should say even as the words left his mouth.”

That phrase sprung to mind when word got out Tuesday morning that Baucus was retiring — the biggest 180 in a four-decade career characterized by such sharp and just-when-you-least-expected-them turnabouts. Two hours later, he still wasn’t quite ready to state clearly what everyone already knew.

“I’ve got people I’ve got to talk to first,” Baucus said as moved past the crush of reporters that waited for him to finish a relatively routine committee meeting. “I’m going to talk to my staff right now. And phone calls I’ve got to make.”

The Baucus record has been marked more than anything by a willingness to ignore the wishes of fellow Democrats and the entreaties of his leadership, especially when they conflicted with his perceived political realities back in Montana. But, for lawmakers and lobbyists alike, there is another related aspect of his style almost as important to be aware of — and sometimes even more annoying. Full story

By David Hawkings Posted at 5:53 p.m.
Democrats, Taxes

Putting Ryan Out Front Alters Immigration Debate Dynamic

This week’s most important development in the immigration debate has nothing to do with those testy exchanges at Monday’s Senate Judiciary hearings. It didn’t even happen in Washington. And the central player is one of President Barack Obama’s most prominent critics.

The event was a daylong swing through Chicago on Monday by Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who ran for vice president last year on the Mitt Romney “self deport” platform and who has continued to make deficit reduction the focus of his congressional career and his 2016 national aspirations.

That all changed yesterday, when Ryan became by far the most prominent House Republican to endorse a comprehensive overhaul of immigration law. Full story

April 22, 2013

Now Is the Sequester of Our Discontent

The House convenes Tuesday for the first time since the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects ended and immigration hearings began, so those issues would be expected to dominate the afternoon glut of “one minutes” from those eager to be heard on the stories of the day.

Instead, it’s a good bet many lawmakers will have something else they want to talk about: the sequester, a topic that was put to rest exactly four weeks ago. Full story

Brothers Tsarnaev Give Unexpected Lift to Immigration Push

Senators pushing for an immigration overhaul are going on offense against the intensifying effort to leverage anxiety about the marathon bombing to derail momentum for the legislation.

“We’re not going to let them use what happened in Boston as an excuse,” Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., one of the “gang of eight” senators who wrote the bipartisan bill, said Sunday on CNN.

Several lawmakers and conservative advocates in recent days have suggested that it’s wrong to begin the immigration debate so soon after the Boston bombings. Without explicitly saying so, these critics have suggested that an overhaul they already view as too permissive would allow unsavory potential terrorists even easier entry into the United States.

But if that’s so, what’s known so far about the brothers who allegedly carried out the attack doesn’t seem to support such an argument. They arrived in the United States a decade ago, when Tamerlan Tsarnaev was the age of a sophomore in high school and Dzhokar Tsarnaev was a fourth-grader, almost certainly too young for them to have immigrated with actionable terrorist thoughts about their new home on their minds. The boys and two sisters emigrated from Russia, where they had arrived as refugees from Kyrgyzstan. They followed their parents, ethnic Chechens who had been granted political asylum in the United States.

Dzhokar, who’s now 19 and remains hospitalized and in serious condition after his capture on April 19, became an American citizen in September. Tamerlan, 26, who died in a shootout on April 19, was a legal resident.  How they were radicalized, the circumstances of Tamerlan’s travels in Russia for six months last year and the nature of the FBI’s earlier interviews with him at the Russian government’s request will be the subject of intense congressional and public interest in coming days. But, at least on the surface, their known path through the immigration system sounds more like an ushering through the proverbial golden door than a slipping through the cracks.

“Refugees and asylum seekers have enriched the fabric of this country from our founding,”  Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said in convening a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill this morning. “Let no one be so cruel as to try to use the heinous acts of two young men last week to derail the dreams and futures of millions of hardworking people.”

Leahy and Schumer both used the same argument at the hearing that was used over the weekend by two “gang of eight” Republicans, Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. They all say the Boston bombing is a reason to accelerate the debate on legislation, not delay it, because of its exit visa requirements and other provisions designed to bolster immigration security.

More than anything else, they say, abandoning deportations and putting 11 million undocumented people on a pathway to citizenship would allow law enforcement to spend more time on border security and investigating immigrants’ terrorist threats.

The slow-walking-because-of-Boston call from the immigration overhaul’s critics may not get all that many adherents in the Senate. It was unveiled on April 19 by Judiciary’s top Republican, Charles E. Grassley, and espoused yesterday by Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., but so far there has not been any additional groundswell. The chances for that are likely to dim as the public comes to understand more of the facts about both the suspects and the bill.

But even a slight delay works to the advantage of opponents, who continue to assume a bill like the one from the “gang of eight” will win a solid majority in the Senate. They are already focusing almost as much lobbying attention on the more skittish, and more Republican, House.

April 19, 2013

Baucus Gets Busy Annoying His Own Party Again

Monday afternoon’s Senate vote is all about Democratic leaders finding another way around Max Baucus — one of the most frequent, unpredictable and enormously powerful thorns on their own side.

Senators will decide whether to break a filibuster helped by Baucus, who for years has been using his Finance Committee chairmanship to bottle up legislation leading to nationwide sales taxes on most online purchases. He says he can’t abide the measure’s effect in Montana — one of five states where there’s no sales tax, but where bigger businesses would have to collect sales taxes from Internet customers elsewhere. He says that’s both an unfair burden on his constituent businesses and an infringement on his state’s rights.

Baucus looks certain to lose; 75 senators voted for a nonbinding measure last month signaling support for the legislation. But the vote will also certainly do nothing to change the ways of a senator whose iconoclastic and parochially driven brand of centrism — especially when he’s within two years of an election — has often infuriated his leaders for the better part of two decades.

That’s because his approach has helped him repel a collection of vigorous challenges and win six terms in the Senate. It also makes him the front-runner at the moment to hold the seat again in 2014 even though President Barack Obama lost Montana by nearly 14 percentage points. Although his approval rating is at an underwhelming 45 percent, his $4.9 million in the bank at the start of April was more than anyone else in the “red state five” — the Democratic incumbents running next year in states Mitt Romney carried last year. And, although the recruiting of more formidable challengers hasn’t stopped, the only potentially viable opponent so far is a former Republican state senator, Corey Stapleton.

But it’s an axiom of Baucus’ congressional life that he’s only stayed safe by running scared, which helps explain why the Internet tax bill standoff marks the fourth time he’s so publicly scraped against the party grain in the past month.

Two of those times came just hours apart on Wednesday.

In the morning, he became the first senior congressional Democrat to publicly express apprehension about implementation of the health care law — which, of course, he had a central hand in writing, much to the consternation of his more liberal colleagues and many of the people in Montana.

“I just see a huge train wreck coming down,” he said, mainly when the enrollment period for the new insurance exchanges begins this fall.

“I don’t know what he’s looking at,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius snipped to reporters when the Finance hearing ended.

Then in the afternoon, Baucus and just three other Democrats broke with the party mainstream on all four key amendments to the gun violence bill. As the National Rifle Association wanted, he voted against expanding background checks, banning assault weapons and restricting high-capacity magazines, and in favor of allowing one state’s concealed-carry permit to apply nationwide.

His first high-profile apostasy of the year came just before the spring recess, when he was one of only four in his caucus to vote against the Democratic budget, which squeaked through without a single vote to spare. It calls on Finance to write a bill raising $975 billion in taxes in the next decade, which the chairman says is way too much. He slipped out of the chamber early in the roll call, even as Majority Leader Harry Reid was trying to figure a way to allow colleagues in even more pronounced political trouble the option of voting “no.”

The Nevada Democrat was reminded in all four instances that there is little percentage in expecting Baucus to put his personal political considerations behind his responsibilities as a top committee chairman to help his party with its legislative goals. Tom Daschle learned that a decade ago, when Baucus openly defied the previous Democratic leader’s orders to stay away from the negotiations that yielded the first Bush tax cut and the Medicare prescription drug program. In the 1990s, George Mitchell had to worry about Baucus’ balancing act pulling him away from the positions he was supposed to promote as Environment and Public Works chairman.

This spring’s gun control, Internet levy and budget resolution matters are tiny fare, though, compared with the No. 1 item on the Baucus agenda, which is to engineer the biggest tax law overhaul since 1980s.

Republicans eager for a Democratic partner who would see things their way — that the corporate and individual codes should be simplified in ways that don’t demand more taxes from the rich — are salivating at the chance to cut a deal with Baucus while he’s running for his seventh term. Many Democrats are openly leery of letting that happen and are counting on Obama to keep the brakes on a tax rewrite tamped down until 2015.

Baucus hopes then to break the record for time on Finance and, because his party doesn’t believe in term limits, to still be chairman. He will be 73 and presumably in his final term. And so it’s only then when his fellow Democrats think he might be willing to strike a deal entirely on his party’s terms.

Washington Frozen in Place by Boston Manhunt

Official Washington remained totally transfixed today by the manhunt around Boston.

President Barack Obama was holed up in the West Wing following the rapidly unfolding and violent developments in the Boston Marathon bombing investigation. He spent part of the morning in a briefing with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and CIA Director John O. Brennan

“This entire week we’ve been in a pretty direct confrontation with evil,” Secretary of State John Kerry said after participating in the meeting by teleconference. Until two months ago, Kerry was the senior senator from Massachusetts.

The only event on Capitol Hill was a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the bipartisan immigration proposal but the one witness, Napolitano, canceled to be with the president. The panel’s top Republican, Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, said the situation underscored the importance of figuring out the existing shortcomings in the immigration system before contemplating an overhaul.

The suspects have been widely identified by law enforcement officials as brothers from a Russian region near Chechnya. But an uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, who lives in the Washington suburb of Montgomery Village, said the men had emigrated almost a decade ago and had lived near Boston ever since.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed following a convenience store robbery  overnight, during a car chase and gun battle in Watertown in which improvised hand grenades were tossed from a carjacked Mercedes and one police officer was killed; he was 26 and was the one wearing the black baseball cap in the surveillance footage the FBI released Thursday.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, the one filmed wearing a white ball cap backwards, escaped and was the focus of a phenomenal manhunt that prompted officials to stop all mass transit systems and order everyone in Boston and several suburbs to stay indoors.

“We believe this to be a terrorist,” Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said before dawn this morning. “We believe this to be a man here to kill people.”

“They have never been in Chechnya, they have nothing to do with Chechnya,” Tsarni told reporters who swarmed his home, and he urged his surviving nephew to turn himself in.

The Chechen region of the Caucuses has been plagued for years by an Islamic insurgency that has pressed its cause with a series of bomb attacks, mainly in Moscow. Tsarni said he was confident that his nephews had no attachment to that cause. “Being losers, not being able to settle themselves,” was his response when asked to speculate on their motive.

By David Hawkings Posted at 12:07 p.m.

April 18, 2013

How 37 Percent of the Nation Still Rules in 100-Member Senate

The way the drive for gun control got stymied shows that the operative dynamic in the Senate has become more insidious than ever.

It turns out that, in this case, the wishes of 9 in 10 Americans can be repelled by a group of lawmakers representing fewer than 3 out of every 8.

A whole series of surveys have found support in the 90 percent range for requiring background checks before almost all commercial firearms sales. That’s about as close as it gets to unanimity in the polling world. And that’s the heart of the proposal that was blocked Wednesday, effectively ending the debate over how best to reduce gun violence  — at least until after the next massacre in a schoolhouse, movie theater or supermarket parking lot.

On the surface, the reason was that 45 senators opposed the idea and, under the new normal for accomplishment in the chamber, any proposal of consequence can be stopped by any bloc of 41 or more. That’s because, three years ago, the dilatory dysfunction got so bad that the leaders of both parties struck a handshake deal. To keep filibusters from swallowing the Senate calendar whole, they would grant the minority an extra measure of leverage on any controversial votes for passing bills or adding amendments: They could insist that the other side come up with 60 affirmative votes, or a three-fifths supermajority. Full story

Obama’s Dinner Date Gets Lost in Senate Gun Shuffle

Act 3 in President Barack Obama’s springtime senatorial reach-out was pretty easy to miss. Tucked between his furious Rose Garden reaction to Wednesday’s gun control defeat and his comforting words of tribute at Thursday morning’s Boston memorial service, the president spent two hours at dinner with a dozen Democratic senators.

None of the four Democrats who crossed party lines and helped defeat the background check compromise were invited, so there were probably no dissenting views when the table talk turned to the president’s promise to try to resurrect that legislation.

But two senators from the “gang of eight,” Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Michael Bennet of Colorado, were on hand to talk about the next steps now that their immigration overhaul measure has been unveiled. Full story

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