Political Animal


April 11, 2013 12:50 PM Baby Step

By Ed Kilgore

So the first Senate skirmish on gun legislation is over, and the good guys won, as WaPo reports:

The Senate voted 68 to 31 to proceed to debate on legislation to curb gun violence, beginning what observers expect to be weeks of argument on the most consequential congressional action on firearm regulations since the 1990s.
Sixteen Republicans joined with 52 Democrats to approve a motion to proceed. Two Democrats joined with 29 Republicans to oppose the motion.

The two Democrats voting against cloture were prime ‘14 targets from red states full of voters fond of their shooting irons: Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska. More importantly, among the 29 Republicans supporting the filibuster was Mitch McConnell.

That helps answer a question I asked myself when this filibuster arose: hey, didn’t the deal Harry Reid cut with McConnell more or less outlaw filibusters on motions to proceed?

Looking back at an explanation of that deal by Ezra Klein at the time, it’s more obvious than ever how little “filibuster reform” Reid actually accomplished:

[T]he deal Reid struck with McConnell doesn’t end the filibuster against the motion to proceed. Rather, it creates two new pathways for moving to a new bill. In one, the majority leader can, with the agreement of the minority leader and seven senators from each party, sidestep the filibuster when moving to a new bill. In the other, the majority leader can short-circuit the filibuster against moving to a new bill so long as he allows the minority party to offer two germane amendments. Note that in all cases, the minority can still filibuster the bill itself.
A pro-reform aide I spoke to was agog. “Right now, you have to negotiate with McConnell to get on a bill,” he said. “Tomorrow, if this passes, you still need to negotiate with McConnell to get on a bill. It changes nothing on how we move forward.”

In other words, any time McConnell supports a filibuster, as he did this one, you”ll almost certainly have to resort to cloture. And then you’ll need another cloture vote in order to obtain a final vote after days and maybe weeks of listening to Republican senators work with the gun lobby to whip up a hate frenzy over the gutting of the Second Amendment.

The fragility of today’s accomplishment is best illustrated by the cascade of Republican “yea” voters on cloture making it clear they were simply voting to “allow a debate.” That doesn’t mean they won’t join the next filibuster (one which the NRA has indicated it will “score”), much less vote for Manchin-Toomey. Check out these remarks from cloture supporter Lindsey Graham, as reported by TPM’s Sahil Kapur:

“The legislation can still be filibustered after today in the United States Senate,” said Graham, who voted for the motion to begin debate on the gun legislation. “And even if gun control legislation passes the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate it is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.”

I’ve gotten a bit of flack from a progressive friend or two who think I’ve been insufficiently enthusiastic about Manchin-Toomey. To be clear, I think if it were actually to become law, it would indeed be an important step forward towards sane gun regulation, particularly given the stranglehold the NRA has possessed on the issue for so long. But surviving a filibuster on the motion to proceed to a debate in the Senate is at the very most a baby step, so we don’t know yet whether Manchin-Toomey represents a breakthrough or just another compromise on a road to ultimate defeat.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Dan in San Antonio on April 11, 2013 1:48 PM:

    From Ezra's description, would the fact that McConnell did filibuster the bill on the front end mean that he forfeit the right to offer wo germane amendments? Not that I'm holding my breath or anything . . .

  • Epicurus on April 11, 2013 2:09 PM:

    Is there a face in Washington more itching for a punch than McConnell's? I would love to turn his head into a punching bag, and I am not, by nature, a violent person. I am so sick and tired of his obstructionism, his disgustingly patronizing tone, and frankly would love to see him out of the Senate. As that will not happen soon, I would respectfully instruct the Majority Leader to set off the "nuclear option." It's way past time that the Senate be a functioning legislative body, not the place where bills go to die.

  • Anonymous on April 11, 2013 2:15 PM:

    What I find so discouraging about this is that the raw power play being executed by the NRA, via the Republicans, comes at a moment when the Obama adminsitration badly misplayed their budget had.

    Democrats are (for good reason, I think) tripping over each other to race for the exits on chained CPI, leaving Obama looking weak and foolish at a moment when the story needs to be about gun safety, not his olive branch extended to the obstreperous, obstructionist GOP.

    It's clear as day that no gun safety bill has a chance in the House. Sure it make sense to try and pass a Senate bill so that Dems can say "vote out the GOP House, they want your school age babies dead."

    But the GOP will b screaming non-stop about Obama selling out SSI. And thats a much bigger vote-getter than guns, I think.

  • RaflW on April 11, 2013 2:18 PM:

    "I would respectfully instruct the Majority Leader to set off the 'nuclear option.' It's way past time that the Senate be a functioning legislative body, not the place where bills go to die."

    Hear, hear! And I have no doubt in my mind - no doubt whatsoever - that should McConnel gain the Majority next election, they'll go nuclear on day one. So there really is not one shred of comity left to preserve in the Senate.

    Press the big red button, Harry.