Why Senate Republicans should think hard about a gun-control filibuster
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell jumps on the filibuster train, but the long-term pain may not be worth the short-term bump
Several things happened on Monday in the fight over expanding gun control. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he would bring a gun-control bill to the Senate floor for a vote this week. President Obama gave another impassioned speech in Connecticut pushing for a vote on a comprehensive gun-control bill, calling a threatened filibuster by some Senate Republicans "political stunts." And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he would join his 13 GOP colleagues (so far) in filibustering any gun-control legislation.
"Gun-control groups expect Republican senators to make good on their filibuster threat," says Gavin Aronsen at Mother Jones. Some Republicans wish they wouldn't. "I don't understand it," Sen. John McCain said Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation. "The purpose of the United States Senate is to debate and to vote and to let the people know where we stand.... Everybody wants the same goal to keep the guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally disabled."
"The delay is okay if the Senate invokes cloture," forcing prolonged debate before a final vote, former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis (R) tells The Washington Post. "If the issue is killed in filibuster, then we are in deep trouble."
Davis is right, says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. Politically speaking, killing the bill without a vote "could have short-term benefits for Republicans" — in 2014, the GOP is defending 14 Senate seats, all but one in states where Obama lost and gun control is unpopular — but it "creates real risks for further damage to the party's already tarnished brand in the long(er) term."
What's good politics for Republicans in South Dakota or Nebraska or Mississippi is not necessarily a good thing for the GOP's attempts to rebrand itself. Remember that expanded background checks have the support of roughly nine in 10 Americans — a sort of no-brainer issue that typically guarantees congressional action of some sort. If Republicans kill gun control measures that are widely popular via the filibuster, they run the very real risk of alienating many of the right-leaning independents and centrists that they badly need to win back in advance of the 2016 presidential election. [Washington Post]
On the one hand, the Republican party really does have an image problem. One of the big knocks against the GOP is that they are obstructionist and allergic to compromise. And the GOP apparently reads these polls, too: The National Republican Congressional Committee's new, hip, BuzzFeed-y website doesn't even have the word "Republican" on its home page.
On the other hand, polls suggest that many Americans think that there are laws on the books that are not being enforced — though many of those laws don't actually exist. Democrats want to make sure they're enacted. And as The Week's Jon Terbush notes, Republicans are somewhat protected by that confusion. "In the states that matter in 2014, and the states currently held by GOP senators, there is not a lot of liability in defeating a gun control bill," a GOP strategist tells The Washington Post. "How it is defeated is probably irrelevant."
Americans may not be experts on gun laws, but they know obstructionism when they see it, says Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice. Filibustering the measures probably will ensure that McConnell will be re-elected next year and "can solidify Republican seats in the Senate." But at what price "in terms of party imagery and winning the popular vote in future presidential elections? As the old saying goes: I wouldn't give this spot to a leopard."
No matter how much spin his spokespeople, Fox News, and talk show hosts do to try and cloud the issue, if gun control is not even brought to a vote there will be a) many clips of Obama's State of the Union speech about victims deserving a vote played over and over, b) the GOP will have given the back of the hand to the overwhelming number of Americans who want the issue to be debated and acted upon, c) McConnell's fingerprints will most assuredly be on the attempt to keep it from being brought to a vote — no matter how much spin and nice sounding filibuster statements are made about principles. [Moderate Voice]