As the Senate moves closer to taking action on gun control legislation, some Republicans are threatening to filibuster – ploys that President Obama called “political stunts” during a speech in Hartford, Conn., not far from the site of the Newtown massacre.
Republicans are fearful of being forced to vote on a bill for universal background checks for gun purchases, a measure supported by as much as 90 percent of the American public, according to some polls. A group of 14 senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid threatening to oppose “any legislation that would infringe on the American people’s constitutional right to bear arms.”
They are trying to push a 60-vote requirement for the bill, which could kill the legislation. Reid said he was “deeply troubled” by the Republicans’ warning, as he worked to bring the gun-control package to the floor for Senate debate.
As the Senate returned Monday from a two-week spring recess, Obama attacked the proposed filibuster during a campaign-style event at the University of Hartford, about 45 miles from the elementary school where 20 first-graders were shot and killed in December.
“Some back in Washington are already floating the idea that they might use political stunts,” said Obama, who was introduced by Nicole Hockley, whose son, Dylan, was one of the victims. “They’re not just saying they’ll vote ‘no’ on ideas that almost all Americans support. They’re saying they won’t allow any votes on them at all.”
A chant of “We want a vote” rose from the crowd.
During his speech, Obama noted that some family members who lost children in the Dec. 14 school shooting refer to the massacre as 12/14, just as the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks are called 9/11.
“For these families, it was a day that changed everything,” Obama said. “And I know many of you in Newtown wondered if the rest of us would live up to the promises … once the television trucks left, once the candles flickered out, once the teddy bears were gathered up – your country would move on to other things. Newtown, we want you to know that we’re here with you.”
The president was scheduled to bring 11 family members of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims back to Washington with him on Air Force One so that they could spend Tuesday lobbying lawmakers for gun control.
Reid has the use of a new Senate rule at his disposal, allowing him to circumvent a filibuster on the motion to proceed to the gun bill by promising each party two amendments on the legislation. If he used that, the senators threatening to filibuster— Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida — would still get a chance to raise their objections on the floor for hours on end, but they couldn’t stop the Senate from starting debate on the bill.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he won’t support a filibuster if Reid promises to allow the amendments on the floor.
“It will be a testing time for a lot of senators who know in their hearts it’s the right thing to do, and know from the polls that a majority of Americans support it,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, according to the New York Times.
Senate veteran Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont indicated his frustration with the Senate procedures that now mandate 60 votes for the passage of any bill with even a bit of controversy.
“I believe in protecting the rights of the minority in the Senate,” he said, “but this has become about ego trips, not about the good of the country.”