President Obama on Wednesday was correct in saying that “the most important [gun law] changes we can make depend on congressional action.”
He might start by asking Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) — who has a “B” rating from the National Rifle Association — where he and his colleagues stand.
Reid’s statement following the president’s remarks was hardly a call to action. “I thank the president’s task force for its thoughtful recommendations,” he said. “I am committed to ensuring that the Senate will consider legislation that addresses gun violence and other aspects of violence in our society early this year.”
Although he went on to say that “all options should be on the table moving forward,” Reid has already voiced skepticism about the possibility of an assault-weapons ban passing Congress.
House speaker John Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel said following the president’s remarks: “House committees of jurisdiction will review these recommendations. And if the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at that.”
Republicans seem content to let Reid take the lead, and respond as needed. House and Senate GOP aides said they were skeptical that the Democratic leader would mount a strong push on gun control for a couple of reasons. And even if he did, such efforts are unlikely to gain traction in the House, where moderate Republicans have shown “almost zero appetite” for sweeping gun-control measures.
First, with the debt ceiling, sequestration, and continuing-resolution fights on the horizon, not to mention a laundry list of issues, such as immigration reform, that Democrats would like to tackle in Obama’s second term, there is likely a limit to the amount of political capital both Reid and the White House want to expend on gun control.
Second, and perhaps more important in terms of Reid’s calculation, consider this list of red-state Democratic senators up for reelection in 2014: Mark Begich (Alaska), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Max Baucus (Mont.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), and Mark Warner (Va.).
Many of those seats ought to be eminently winnable for Republicans, with or without the help of newly enthused pro-gun voters. Reid may simply choose to avoid the added risk of a backlash over gun control.
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) recently suggested the reason she failed to hold any votes on gun control between 2009 and 2011, when Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress, was due to opposition from Reid. And she did not want to force House Democrats to “walk the plank of something that’s not going to become the law.”