Late Thursday afternoon, President Obama stood outside the White House with Vice-President Joe Biden, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and families of children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and condemned in the strongest language the Senate’s 54-46 vote for a bill that did nothing more than close the “gun show” loophole and extend mandatory background checks beyond gun stores.
He called it “a shameful day for Washington” and then called out the National Rifle Association by name:
The gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill. They claimed that it would create some sort of “big brother” gun registry, even though the bill did the opposite. This legislation, in fact, outlawed any registry. Plain and simple, right there in the text. But that didn’t matter.
And then he turned on the senators who voted against the amendment put forward by Senators Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). The Senate’s vote was short of the 60 needed to invoke cloture and defeat a likely filibuster:
Most of these senators could not offer any good reason why we wouldn’t want to make it harder for criminals and those with severe mental illnesses to buy a gun. There were no coherent arguments as to why we wouldn’t do this. It came down to politics—the worry that that vocal minority of gun owners would come after them in future elections.
And so they caved to the pressure, and they started looking for an excuse — any excuse — to vote “no.”
So, the president of the United States called the NRA liars and much of the Senate cowards.
Ironically, the president’s criticism of the NRA was indirectly seconded by, of all people, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the most hardcore, humorless supporter of far-right causes since the unlamented Jim DeMint departed the Senate.
“I don’t disagree that on its face, the currently pending legislation does not purport to create a national gun registry,” Cruz told Talking Points Memo.
I guess his Harvard Law degree was good for something.
Nonetheless, Dean Heller, the newly elected Republican senator from Nevada, repeated the falsehood with a straight face, telling TPM, “I believe that this legislation could lead to the creation of a national gun registry.”
Former Rep. Giffords, herself a victim of gun violence, wrote in a passionate op-ed in The New York Times:
These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the [NRA], which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending.
Let’s face it—this bill was pretty weak tea and fell far short of the goals the president and Vice-President Biden set in the weeks after the horrible Newtown shootings. There was no assault-weapon ban, no limit on the number of rounds in magazines, nothing close to the restrictions enacted by states like New York, Maryland, and Connecticut in Sandy Hook’s wake.
But it was still too much for Democratic senators like the newly elected Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Begich of Alaska, and Max Baucus of Montana, all three of whom are up for reelection in red states next year.
Besides Pat Toomey, Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois and John McCain were the only GOP senators who voted yea. All other Republicans turned thumbs down.
In the best Beltway tradition, Politico labeled it a defeat for the president. But at least he went down fighting for something he believed in, along with 90% of the American public.
That wasn’t nearly enough, though, Politico reported:
“Bribery isn’t what it once was,” said an official with one of the major gun-control groups. “The government has no money. Once upon a time you would throw somebody a post office or a research facility in times like this. Frankly, there’s not a lot of leverage.”
A post office for the lives of children who might be saved if a felon or psychopath couldn’t buy guns over the Internet. Only in Washington DC is that a trade anyone would remotely consider.