Wednesday, June 22, 2022
The politics of gun control: Senators for bill say calls run in favor of it, but most are insulated from voters' retribution
Most of the 14 Republican senators who voted to advance the bipartisan gun-violence bill have political insulation, and others say they're doing what their constituents want.
Todd Young of Indiana told Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post. that his calls were "about 10 to 1 . . . in favor of reasonable prohibitions." Joni Ernst of Iowa told The New York Times that her calls from constituents were 6 to 1 in favor of "doing something."
To the south, opinion was generally more mixed and often hostile. Missouri's senators split, with retiring Roy Blunt for the bill and conservative firebrand Josh Hawley outspokenly against it and trying to change the subject. “People are absolutely furious that this bill does not do anything meaningful to address the national crime wave,” he told the Post.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the chief Republican architect of the deal, said last week that gun owners' support for the framework being filled in at the time was "off the charts, overwhelming." But gun owners for whom the Second Amendment is a voting issue may be a different story; Cornyn was roundly booed at his state party convention last weekend.
Both North Carolina senators, retiring Richard Burr and fellow Republican Thom Tillis, endorsed the bill. Tillis told the Times, “When . . . people fully understand what we’re doing and more importantly, what we’re not doing, it’s not a difficult discussion for me to have in North Carolina.” Republican Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said likewise.
The six-year terms of Tillis and Capito end in 2026, as do those of Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and the other Southern Republicans for the bill, Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. Other Republicans for it include Rob Portman of Ohio and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who are retiring.
The only Republicans who voted to advance for the bill and are seeking re-election this year are Young and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska; "neither is particularly worried about losing support from their party’s conservative base," notes Emily Cochrane of the Times. Young has already been renominated without opposition, and Murkowski "voted to convict President Donald J. Trump at his 2021 impeachment trial ... is running for re-election as a moderate [and] has repeatedly been rewarded by voters for her independent streak."
McConnell's support of the bill "was a sign that some Republicans have calculated that, given the scale of public outrage over mass shootings, their party could not afford to be seen as blocking a modest compromise on gun safety in an election year," the Times reports.
"No player was more crucial," DeBonis writes. "McConnell, however, finds himself in the minority of a divided Republican conference — a position he usually tries to avoid. . . . McConnell’s allies said there was political logic to the decision to cut a modest deal with Democrats and demonstrate to the public that the GOP is not an immovable obstacle to action to address the drumbeat of mass shootings."
David Catanese of McClatchy Newspapers, the regional D.C.-based reporter who pays the most attention to McConnell (for the Lexington Herald-Leader), gets insight from lobbyist Liam Donovan, a former Senate campaign aide: "Donovan surmised that even though the loudest voices on the right are angered, the GOP leader sees a political upside. He now has another significant vote in his pocket that he can hold up when Democrats complain the filibuster needs to be broken or amended to accomplish a legislative goal." And maybe a way to quiet the issue for a while.
“Base blowback is a sunk cost, having pursued a deal,” Donovan told Catanese. “You have to balance the prospect of a divisive vote with the fact that this is their last, best chance to take the issue off the table for the foreseeable future, and on relatively favorable terms.”