Senate nears final approval of gun deal with support of 15 Republicans

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Before the Senate cast its first procedural vote on its legislative response to the shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, I predicted that the bill would ultimately get the vote of 65 senators. That procedural vote attracted 14 Republicans, so I was one off, but one additional Republican hopped on the bandwagon this afternoon as the Senate voted 65-35 to advance the legislation, setting up a vote for final passage either late Thursday or early Friday and removing any remaining suspense about the fate of the bill in Congress.

The bipartisan Senate gun bill Thursday cleared a major procedural vote 65-34, setting up a vote on final passage likely later Thursday or early Friday.

The bill, spearheaded by Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, comes in the wake of several recent mass shootings. One at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, was the major driver behind the bipartisan effort.

“This is an incredibly important day in the United States Senate. Final passage will be either later today or early tomorrow, and we will be well on our way to saving 1000s of lives in this country,” Murphy said Thursday. “30 years Congress has done nothing to try to address the epidemic of school shootings and murders and suicides in this country. And while this doesn’t do everything we need to do. This is a way that we show it’s possible to break the logjam.”

The one additional Republican vote came from Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who was absent for the first procedural vote but has been supportive of the bipartisan effort to reach an accord since the discussions began last month. The third and final vote will most likely mirror this one, and then the bill heads over to the House where Nancy Pelosi has pledged to bring it forward as quickly as possible; perhaps even as early as tomorrow.

With Democrats in control of the House, final passage is virtually assured at this point, though we could actually see less Republican support in the House than in the Senate, especially since the House GOP leadership is urging its members to oppose the legislation.

“In an effort to slowly chip away at law-abiding citizens’ 2nd Amendment rights, this legislation takes the wrong approach in attempting to curb violent crimes,” Scalise said in a whip notice Wednesday.

“Since Biden’s election, Democrats have failed at every level. There’s literally only one way Republicans can lose the midterms,” Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., said in a press conference. “That’s exactly what these 14 RINOs, Republicans in name only, have done in the Senate.”

There will likely be some House GOP support for the bill, but Fox News is told that could top out short of 20, or even short of the 13 members who voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Five Republican House members voted for the much more restrictive package put together by House Democrats, and Rep. Anthony Gonzales, who represents the city of Uvalde has said that he’ll vote for the Senate bill after opposing the House measures, so there’ll be at six Republican votes in favor in the House. I think 20 is a pretty optimistic number for fans of the deal, however. My guess is that somewhere between 13 and 16 House Republicans end up signing on, with a good number of those votes coming from members who are retiring this year and aren’t up for re-election.

As for Boebert’s claim that the passage of the Senate deal is going to lead to Republicans losing the midterms, I just don’t see many Republicans staying home on Election Day to punish the GOP for agreeing to expand background checks (and impose a de facto waiting period) for gun buyers younger than 21 or for offering grants to states that establish “red flag” laws; especially with the background check provision sunsetting after 10 years and the pool of federal grant money open to states that choose not to put “red flag” laws on the books and instead want access to funds for other crisis intervention programs that don’t involve stripping people of their Second Amendment rights without due process.

Primary challenges the next time they’re up for reelection? Absolutely. But with the economy and inflation driving voter concerns far more than any other issue, I think McConnell, Cornyn, and Senate Republicans have made the political calculation that even conservatives who are ticked off about the Senate deal will hold their nose and vote for the Republicans on their ballot this fall.

Ironically, Bidenflation may be the most important thing that Joe Biden’s done to advance his gun control agenda, even though it’s going to be a major drag on Democrats’ fortunes come November. If gas were still at $2.75 a gallon and we weren’t wincing in pain every time we pay for our groceries, Republicans would probably be much more concerned about playing to their base and not giving an inch on gun rights because this would likely be a base turnout election for both parties. Right now, however, Democrats are trying to play to their base while Republicans are trying to expand their list of seats that can be flipped, and that unfortunately means that single-issue 2A voters aren’t quite as important to the GOP election strategy as we are in standard 50-50 election environment. They can’t afford to make us so mad that we decide to stay home, but clearly McConnell and company feel like they’ve got some room to play to the moderate middle before they run the risk of depressing turnout among the GOP base.

I don’t know if that strategy is really likely to pay off this year, and as I said, I think it’s going to come back and bite a lot of these senators the next time they face voters in a Republican primary, but that’s the political calculus at work at the moment, and it pretty much guarantees that Joe Biden will put pen to paper and sign the bill into law in the next few days.