Early yesterday afternoon, I asked Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn if he thought he had the votes to defeat a cloture on the motion to proceed for the Democrats’ main gun control proposal. The Texas Republican replied that he had no stance because “we don’t know what’s in it.” That changed when Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced a motion to proceed on S.649, Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) “Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013.” If a bill cannot be sent to the floor by unanimous consent, a motion to proceed to consider must be filed.
Reid filed cloture on the motion to proceed, after the 5 pm deadline he gave Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) to reach a bipartisan compromise on background checks passed. A successful cloture vote would override the filibuster threatened by key Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). It would also send a strong signal to potential allies like Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), who must feel pressure to introduce any Senate-approved measure in the House. Toomey and Manchin eventually reached a deal, and will be announcing their compromise at an 11 am press conference, viewable on C-Span and C-Span.org. It will be offered as an amendment.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is working on an alternative gun control bill that focuses on “protecting the Second Amendment” by working on myriad issues surrounding gun violence. His press secretary just told me it is very much a “work in progress” with many elements “constantly changing” and no sense of when it will be finalized. The timing of its introduction is likewise uncertain because “we don’t know” how Reid will schedule votes, etc. She did confirm Grassley is working with other senators, but declined to name them. A safe bet would be moderate Republicans.
At his post-caucus luncheon press conference Tuesday Reid said, “I don’t know” when asked if he thinks he has the 60 votes needed for a successful cloture vote. Later in the day he confirmed the vote would be Thursday morning, but uncertainty remains. Via Politico:
When pressed by reporters [yesterday afternoon], Reid conceded that he’s going to lose some Democrats on the cloture vote. And the majority leader said he hasn’t been pressing Democrats to support a measure that is political dynamite for those in red states, many of whom are up for reelection in 2014.
Reid said that if the bill doesn’t get 60 votes to move to the floor, he would then move to hold votes on individual bills for several gun proposals, including the assault weapons ban, background checks and limits on high-capacity magazines.
If it does get 60 votes, substantial filibuster risk remains. Amendments can also be delayed by filibuster. If cloture were filed again Thursday, that vote would be pushed to Saturday or, more likely, Monday or Tuesday (senators do not like working on the weekend). Reid promised Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) two amendment votes on her assault weapons ban — after dropping it from the body for being too controversial. And the Tea Partiers who first threatened a filibuster on the motion to proceed cited the possibility of restrictive amendments. In short, expect a long, drawn-out battle.
This is a lot to process, but there are two important qualifications. First, parliamentary procedure is arcane by nature. Second, although bills were historically sent to the floor by unanimous consent (much as the judicial nominations introduced by a senator for his or her state were respected as a matter of course), filibusters on motions to proceed have been the new normal for about a decade. On that specific point, the Democrats’ gun control bill is unexceptional. However, this does not diminish the considerable intensity of the rhetoric and lobbying about gun regulation since the Newtown massacre.