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A remarkable thing just happened on Capitol Hill, something that many skeptics, including myself, thought they would never see.
There was a compromise. Moreover, it was a compromise on one of the most volatile and sensitive issues facing the country, gun control.
Fourteen Republican senators broke ranks with party orthodoxy and the NRA in a test vote on a series of modest measures to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. This means that he will weed out any filibuster and will undoubtedly pass in a matter of days.
Of course, the fact that it took mass killings in Texas and Buffalo to elicit such measures favored by most of the public may not win any reward in courage, but given our hyperpolarized politics, it is an important moment.
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What’s harder to fathom is another proposal — President Biden’s — to suspend the federal gas tax for three months. It’s not because of the substance – everyone knows it’s a campaign gimmick that wouldn’t have much impact – but because it’s almost certain to fail. Politico called it “probably doomed.”
The reason: Democratic leaders don’t like the idea.
“I fully understand that the gas tax exemption alone will not solve the problem,” Biden said in his speech yesterday. “But it will bring immediate relief to families. Just a little breathing room as we continue to work to bring prices down in the long term.” He also urged oil companies to lower prices, which is not happening.
Now, I believe in politics that doing something is worth nothing, even if the savings would be minimal in the age of five dollar gas a gallon – if it reached consumers. But Biden’s speech yesterday made no sense if he couldn’t get the thing across.
While the president is widely criticized for his inefficiency, how does it help him if he is unable to control his own party? Shouldn’t this be a precooked deal with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer? This is Joe Manchin’s problem again. Maybe the Democrats will step forward to help their leader save face, but that’s a big gamble.
After weeks of gun legislative hype and wrangling, the Senate gang has introduced actual legislation, not press release promises. Most of the credit goes to Democrat Chris Murphy and Republican John Cornyn.
Murphy was a congressman from Connecticut during the Sandy Hook mass shootings a decade ago and has made it a personal crusade. He told MSNBC that during the last recess lawmakers heard parents’ anguish for the safety of their children and it changed the atmosphere.
Cornyn is a conservative Texas senator who felt he had to respond to the Uvalde massacre in his state and was recently booed at a GOP convention. He could have engaged in the usual stall until the pressure subsided, like after so many mass shootings, and his position was not easy to adopt in the Lone Star State.
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“I’m committed to getting a result here,” Cornyn told Politico. “And I understand that some people don’t want to listen.”
With Mitch McConnell joining in the affirmative vote — and calling it “a popular package of common-sense measures” — GOP dissenters have far exceeded the magic number of 60. It’s not like McConnell and other Republicans who line up with a Biden infrastructure bill, since everyone loves roads and bridges.
Here’s what the measurement would do. Rather than raising the age of purchase for semi-automatic rifles to 21, it gives authorities 10 working days to review the juvenile and mental health records of buyers under that age. The law would give states millions to fund red flag laws, if they choose to sign up to them. Additionally, there are stiffer penalties for purchases of “straw” through a third party, and millions more for school safety and mental health programs.
As for the “boyfriend loophole” that threatened the talks, it would ban purchases by domestic abusers who are serious romantic partners in a current or recent relationship. But those convicted of a misdemeanor could regain their gun rights five years later.
As if to underscore how even this package is a bridge too far for most Republicans, Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise – who was shot by a crazed liberal shooter during baseball practice five years ago – say that ‘they will lead the fight against compromise.
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And Donald Trump, who once vowed to take on the NRA but then backed down, denounced it on Truth Social:
“The ‘gun control’ deal currently being crafted and pushed through the Senate by hard-left Democrats, with the help of Mitch McConnell, RINO Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and others, will go down in history as the first step in the movement to REMOVE YOUR WEAPONS.”
Interestingly, opponents often make the slippery slope argument rather than get to the actual details of what is before Congress.
It would be naive to believe that this heralds a new era of bipartisan cooperation. The horror of what happened in this fourth-grade class in Uvalde – compounded by the director of police’s admission of a ‘dismal failure’ in which armed officers waited an hour without doing anything – created enormous public pressure.
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And Republicans certainly aren’t going to give Biden a break on the gas tax pitch, especially since they don’t believe in the idea and the thing looks dead on arrival.
But a compromise on guns is so incredibly rare in a deeply divided Congress that often seems impervious to public pressure.