House Democrats still short on votes on "assault weapons" ban

According to Rep. Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary Committee is supposed to mark up a ban on so-called assault weapons tomorrow with an eye towards bringing the bill to the floor of the House for a full vote next week. While the committee may move forward with the bill as scheduled, according to the primary sponsor the bill is still a few votes short of passage in the House.

POLITICO congressional reporter Jordain Carney tweeted out the comment by Rep. David Cicillini of Rhode Island late Monday evening.

Both Adam Kinzinger and Chris Jacobs are retiring this fall, so they won’t have to face the wrath of Republican voters if they do indeed cross over and vote to criminalize the manufacture and sale of one of the most popular firearms in the country. But as Carney noted, there are some Democrats who’ll end up voting against the bill as well. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas has already come out in opposition to the legislation, and my guess is that other “moderate” Democrats like Maine’s Jared Golden and Kurt Schrader of Oregon, who both voted against the gun control package approved by the House a few weeks ago, will also end up voting no on Cicillini’s gun ban.

Carney’s colleague Sarah Ferris, who also covers Congress for POLITICO, added to Carney’s reporting with a little news of her own indicating that Democratic leadership is starting to put the squeeze on members.

You don’t need to “step up” your intra-party lobbying efforts if the votes are already there, so this is yet another indication that the push for an “assault weapons” ban is running up against a roadblock comprised of a handful of Democrats who know that this ban isn’t going to play well with voters back home. As of this morning HR 1808 has 212 co-sponsors, all of them Democrats. There are just eight House Democrats who haven’t signed on to the bill, and while they don’t need to co-sponsor the legislation to ultimately vote for the bill, their absence is notable at a time when Nancy Pelosi is twisting arms to rally support for the gun ban.

The push for a gun ban is part of House Democrats’ larger strategy of holding votes on legislation aimed at bolstering turnout among the Democratic base this fall, with the House narrowly approving a pair of bills expanding abortion access last week and votes scheduled for this week on legislation ensuring access to contraception and repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, which allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The Respect for Marriage Act would officially repeal the Defense Against Marriage Act, which specifically defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman and allowed individual states to not recognize same-sex marriage that were recognized under other states’ laws.

The law was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in cases as recently as 2013 and 2015, but it remains “on the books,” Democrats have said. The House bill would repeal the statute once and for all.

The bill also requires, for federal law purposes, that an individual be considered married if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed, which would give same sex and interracial couples additional certainty that they will “continue to enjoy equal treatment under federal law as all other married couples.”

All of these bills are ostensibly a response to the Supreme Court’s rulings in Dobbs and, in the case of Cicillini’s ban on semi-automatic rifles, Bruen. The real goal, however, is to help embattled Democrats running for re-election (and those hoping to unseat incumbent Republicans) cut ads this fall portraying themselves as defenders of the progressive faith. With the economy the driving factor in the midterms, I don’t think this strategy is going to pay too many dividends, especially when it comes to a ban on so-called assault weapons. Polls show Americans are broadly supportive of same sex marriageaccess to contraception, and even abortion in certain circumstances, but support for a ban on so-called assault weapons has become more unpopular than ever before, according to a recent poll by Quinnipiac, which found that just 50% of respondents agreed with a ban while 45% opposed the idea.

Given the fact that Democrats are still hunting for the votes needed to pass the bill (which stands virtually no chance of passage in the Senate regardless of what happens in the House), I’d say at least a few lefties in the House have been looking at those polls and listening to what their constituents are saying. Will that be enough to scuttle the Democrats’ gun ban bill? Maybe not, but making this a campaign issue isn’t just going to motivate some far-left anti-gun voters. It’s also going to energize many Republicans as well, and could easily end up doing more damage to swing district Democrats than anything else.