Gun control advocates want to end the filibuster. Their man in the Senate says he's not sure

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

The gun control lobby (well, most of it anyway) has been an active part of the attempt to nuke the filibuster in the Senate over the past year, because they know that until bills can be passed with a bare minimum of 51 votes, they have no chance of advancing any of their legislative priorities. The Brady Campaign, Moms Demand Action, Everytown for Gun Safety… all have come out in support of ending the filibuster to one degree or another in recent months, but there’s one notable exception among the anti-gun orgs. Giffords, co-founded by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, hasn’t weighed in on the issue one way or another.

In fact, Mark Kelly himself hasn’t said much about the filibuster (or anything else of substance, for that matter) since he won a special election to fill the remainder of John McCain’s term in office after he passed away in 2018. Kelly hasn’t delivered any fiery speeches demanding Senate passage of the universal background check bill approved by the House. Heck, he didn’t even rail against the Republican opposition to David Chipman’s nomination to head up the ATF, even though Chipman works for Kelly’s own gun control group. Instead, he’s kept his head down and his mouth shut, fully aware of the fact that he’s up for re-election to a full six-year term in November of 2022.

Thanks to Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden, however, Kelly and other purple/red state Democrats are likely going to have to not only sound off on the filibuster, but vote on whether to keep it in place or weaken/destroy it. And according to POLITICO, Kelly is publicly undecided.

A Democratic senator from Arizona is still not sold on changes to the filibuster. And it’s not Kyrsten Sinema.

Mark Kelly is not yet committed to a change in the Senate rules that would allow elections reform legislation to pass by a simple majority. A centrist who is up for reelection in November, Kelly said Monday he is still undecided just days before he may have to vote on proposals to weaken the filibuster.

I’ve never been part of an organization where it’s really, really hard to do things. So if there’s a real proposal, I’ll take a look at it and evaluate it based on what’s in the best interests of the country,” Kelly said. He said he has yet to see what, exactly, he would vote on and that the proposals Democrats have discussed change “almost weekly.”

Under the timeline proposed by Schumer, the Senate will vote on whether to nuke the current filibuster rules next week, as part of the Biden administration’s attempt to reset their agenda after the failure of his Build Back Better plan. The problem for Biden and Schumer is that, as POLITICO points out, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema aren’t the only Democrats who are hesitant to change the rules.

Given Manchin and Sinema’s staunch opposition to getting rid of the filibuster, Democrats are weighing votes on reinstalling a talking filibuster or a filibuster exemption for voting legislation as alternatives to eliminating the 60-vote threshold entirely. But making those changes would require lockstep unity and going “nuclear” — a unilateral vote to change the rules on party lines.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he was not sure where the votes were at the moment, but that “it’s important people be on the record.”

I think this is an idiotic move all around on the part of Democratic leadership, which means I’m glad to see it. Yes, let’s put senators like Kelly on the record and see where he stands on the filibuster. As my friend Ed Morrissey points out at HotAir, doing so ensures a win/win scenario for Republicans in Arizona.

If they vote with Schumer, Republicans will eat Kelly and Hassan alive this year and others later on, all for a vote that Manchin and Sinema have already insisted will go nowhere anyway. If they vote against the filibuster change, progressives will eat them alive in states where their support is critical. Even if these seats were salvageable, and that may not be the case already for Kelly and Hassan, Schumer’s move is guaranteed to lose seats for no purpose whatsoever. It’s the political equivalent of Pickett’s Charge.

It’s extra problematic for Kelly because it’s not just generic progressive groups that have been demanding an end to the filibuster, but Giffords’ closest allies. It would be embarrassing to the movement if Kelly turned around and voted against nuking the filibuster because that will go over better with voters at home.

But if Kelly wants to win in November, siding with Biden and Schumer in what’s almost certain to be a losing campaign to ram through the Democratic agenda with the slightest majority isn’t going to help. And while the gun control lobby will be one of Kelly’s largest financial backers in his re-election bid, its the voters in Arizona who will ultimately decide who represents them in the Senate for the next six years.

If Schumer does follow through with his plan to put senators’ stance on the filibuster on the record, my guess is that Kelly first comes out in favor of some “limited reforms” without backing full repeal. If push comes to shove and Kelly’s forced to vote up or down on keeping the filibuster in place, I think he plays the “centrist” card and sides with Sinema, even if it gets him crosswise with progressives, including some gun control activists.

The gun control lobby knows how to play the long game, and as embarrassing as it might be to have Mark Kelly vote against their stated desires, these groups will likely suck it up and downplay the dispute because they would much rather have him in office for the next six years instead of a pro-2A Republican. I don’t think that same calculus holds true for other progressive groups, however, and Ed Morrissey is correct that no matter how Kelly casts his vote it’s going to come with political consequences.

Jul 03, 2022 8:30 AM ET