Neil McCabe

A procedural twist means the anti-gun rights agenda of President Barack Obama and the Democrats was not stopped when, April 17th, a series of amendments at the heart of the bill to ban so-called assault weapons was defeated.

“But make no mistake: this debate is not over. This is not the end of the fight. Republicans are in an unsustainable position – crosswise with nine out of ten Americans,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.). The nine-out-of-ten quote refers to polls that show overwhelming support for the expansion of pre-gun purchase background checks sponsored by Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R.-Pa.) and Sen. Joseph Manchin III (D.-W.V.), which was written with major input by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D.-N.Y.).

“Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of Senate Republicans ignored the voices of an overwhelming majority of Americans,” he said.

“Yesterday, the families of gun violence victims watched as Republicans defeated a common-sense proposal to expand background checks,” he said. “Democrats will consider all of our options on how to proceed with this legislation.”

This is not an idle threat. I am not sure if I can explain this correctly. When the Toomey-Manchin background checks amendment failed April 17th, 55-47, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) switched his vote to the prevailing side making the vote 54-46, which is the final tally. With Reid now on the prevailing side, he then laid a motion to reconsider upon the table--where it sits waiting.

Normally, there is a two-step process to Senate votes. First, there is the motion to proceed, followed by the actual vote. When you hear about a filibuster, most times it is in regards to the motion to proceed, and the 60 vote-threshold is on closing floor debate, which then leads to the agenda item that passes or fails on a simple majority.

To speed the process along, Reid and the Democrats skipped the motion to precede vote, because with the cooperation of the Republicans, he received unanimous consent that each of the amendments to the anti-gun rights bill require a 60-vote majority to pass.

The 60-vote threshold vital to Democrats, as much as it is to Republicans, because once it is clear the tally will fall short of the 60, it is easier for Democrats needing a pro-gun vote get a “cover vote.” Similarly, Republicans needing getting pressure from gun control lobbyists get same free play without affecting the outcome.

By conflating the two steps, Reid satisfied the 60-vote threshold, but he also set the amendments for quick and easier passage when the time is right. As majority leader, his motion to reconsider is a privileged motion, immune from amendments and filibusters. In addition, because the 60-vote threshold was created by the special circumstance of unanimous consent, the reconsideration of the amendments revert to the requirement of a simple majority.

Unspoken in all of this is the understanding that Democrats are waiting for the next spree shooter to go berserk. When he does, and the mood of the nation is panicked about guns, their program will be on the shelf waiting.

Manchin has not given up, but Toomey will not go back for another round.

Chris Wallace on the Fox News Sunday program asked Manchin if he was thought he could bring the background check bill back.

“I certainly do. The only thing that we've asked for is that people would just read the bill. It's a criminal and mental background check strictly at gun shows and online sales,” said the West Virginia senator.

“I truly believe if we have time to sell the bill, and people will read the bill, and I'm willing to go anywhere in this country, I'm going to debate anybody on this issue, read the bill and you tell me what you don't like,” he said.

When Wallace told Manchin he co-sponsor Toomey was out, the senator said it was not true.

“I don't think he's done. I really don't know. I was with Pat last night and Pat's totally committed to this bill and I believe that with all of my heart and we're going to work this bill,” he said.

Manchin might want to rely less on Toomey and more on Reid.

 

When the Pennsylvania senator stepped forward to support expanding background checks, the president’s program to restrict gun rights was stalled out, so it was a shock to Capitol Hill conservatives. In January, he took over the Republican Steering Committee, the leading conservative bloc in the Senate, replacing James W. DeMint, who is now leading the Heritage Foundation.

In the steering committee meetings that followed, Toomey’s colleagues told him flat out that in his position, he should not be partnering with the White House on gun control.

 

Although, he always voted the National Rifle Association’s line, Toomey, the former president of the Club for Growth, had never been vocal on gun rights. After the blowback from this foray, there is little doubt he will stray from his core competencies soon.

The Keystone State senator filed a bill Jan. 23 to amend the Constitution to create term limits for senators and congressmen. When a reporter asked him recently if he still supported term limits, he said his support of background checks was proof he did—at least for himself.


Neil McCabe

Neil W. McCabe is a journalist working in Washington. He was a senior reporter for the Human Events newspaper and for many years a reporter for The Pilot, Boston's Catholic paper. In 2009, he deployed to Iraq with the Army as a combat historian for 15 months.