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Happy Friday morning.
For the first time in several years, a bipartisan group of senators is holding talks on new gun-control laws.
With the American public horrified by two recent mass shootings that left more than 30 people dead – including 19 children – these senators have begun to explore whether any agreement is possible. The talks are still in their infancy; the first meeting was held Thursday in Sen. Chris Murphy’s (D-Conn.) Capitol hideaway. The discussions so far are focused on creating a government grant program to encourage states to implement “red flag” laws and an expanded background check system to screen gun sales.
Of course, we’ve seen this all before. Following a particularly shocking mass shooting, a group of lawmakers attempts to strike a deal to curb the availability of guns, only to fall short after weeks or even months of talks. However, there’s some reason to be more hopeful this time around. Most of the participants say the negotiations have a more urgent vibe than previous episodes.
When there’s an important legislative debate, we like to lay out why a deal may come together, and why it might fall apart. We find this to be a useful exercise to explore all of the competing dynamics in a complex, fluid situation.
So let’s get into it. The five reasons a deal may actually happen, and five reasons why it’s likely to fall apart.
Why a deal could finally happen
Incrementalism. What’s been striking so far in these nascent discussions is how narrow they are in scope. So far, there’s been no mention of an assault weapons ban and no real discussion of raising the minimum age to buy assault rifles. Typically in these situations, Democrats try to swing for the fences because that’s what their base demands. This time around, limiting the scope of the proposals under review has attracted a wide range of Republicans.
A different calculation by Republicans. Republicans have made a different calculation this time around. They realize that the Democrats are being reasonable, and if they don’t get into a room and negotiate, they’ll risk a political backlash. Not to mention, many GOP lawmakers – including Sens. Rick Scott (Fla.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) – have been in favor of red flag laws. Scott signed a red flag law in Florida when he was governor, and both Rubio and Graham have offered red-flag proposals of their own. Of course, no one believes that red flag laws will stop every shooting. But Democrats and Republicans both acknowledge they’ll stop some. And in this moment of outrage, that’s enough. Plus, it’s important to note that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is supportive of these discussions right now. Without McConnell’s backing, nothing will happen.
The Senate has gotten used to gangs. Some of the biggest accomplishments achieved by this 50-50 Senate – and in recent years – have happened in gangs. We’re thinking about the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law most recently. In fact, a lot of legislative action now occurs outside committees. This group of senators has had some success in the past, it could again.
The myth of the NRA. Newsflash – the NRA is not nearly the political powerhouse it once was, or that many Democrats claim it is. Sure, the NRA raises and gives out money. The NRA has been buffeted by internal controversy for years, and other gun-rights organizations, such as the Gun Owners of America, are increasingly prominent. The last time the Senate passed a gun-reform proposal in 2018 – Fix NICS – the NRA lobbied hard against it and lost.
Shock value. The sense we get from lawmakers is that the back-to-back shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde have shaken a lot of lawmakers to the core – Republicans included. Gun violence has surged nationally during the last few years, including mass shootings. There’s only so much indifference that is acceptable, even on Capitol Hill.
Why a deal is sure to fall apart
Republicans are Second Amendment absolutists. As we noted on Thursday, the reality is that there are at least 35 Senate Republicans who’ll never sign onto a gun control proposal, no matter how moderate or reasonable it is. The pool of potential GOP votes is just not that big. And on Capitol Hill, sentiment is quick to spread. If the Senate GOP leadership decides that an emerging agreement is weak or politically risky, they’ll let their rank and file know that they’re not going to support it – and those lawmakers will get the message quickly. That kind of pressure is very difficult to resist.
2A groups will organize. While the NRA’s power is overrated, they do have some influence. And other pro-gun rights like GOA will mobilize and flood Senate offices with phone calls, letters and emails from constituents in opposition to any gun bill. The online gun-rights movement is extremely vigilant, and they’re very, very vocal on social media. If Republicans feel as if they don’t have the political space to cut a deal, they won’t.
Time. This is probably the biggest concern for Murphy and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer: The Senate is in recess for the next 10 days. Sure, lawmakers will stay in touch and staff will trade paper. But the fact that senators are going home for more than a week is a huge challenge. The more time goes by, the harder it will be to do a deal. The sense of urgency, of crisis, may be the most important factor in persuading senators to act on such a controversial issue.
It’s an election year. It sounds crass, but Republicans will come under pressure not to reach a bipartisan agreement with control of Congress at stake in just over five months. Conservative media outlets are already running through a parade of stories on school security or mental health, not guns, being the issue in the Uvalde and Buffalo massacres. Some in the GOP are saying they need to keep the focus on economic issues, where they have a huge advantage. There will be warnings that pro-gun rights voters will stay home if Republican leaders cut a gun deal.
The inertia of inaction. Let’s be honest: Congress is really good at doing nothing. If you were to gamble on Congress, bet against them and you’ll win more than 95% of the time. It’s difficult to do big things, it’s difficult to do little things. It’s difficult to do anything these days, in fact.
– Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan
The House is readying another gun package
New: House Democratic leaders are assembling a second package of gun-control measures that could include raising the age limit for some gun purchases, a ban on “ghost guns,” additional penalties for illegal “straw purchasers” of firearms, and beefed-up storage requirements for gun owners, among other proposals.
This package is still being assembled by House Democratic leaders. Senior Democrats have held discussions among themselves, the Judiciary Committee, and the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force on what they want to see included in a “community safety” initiative.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has already announced that the House will vote on Rep. Lucy McBath’s (D-Ga.) bill to create a national “red flag” law when it returns from the Memorial Day recess. That measure will be combined with a bill by Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.) that would incentivize states to establish their own red flag laws. Nineteen states already have such laws in place.
Both McBath and Carbajal have been touched personally by gun violence. McCath’s son was shot to death a decade ago, while Carbajal’s sister used a gun to take her own life.
Here’s Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) chair of the Democrats’ Gun Violence Prevention Task Force:
“Senate Republicans and the Beltway NRA have stopped every reasonable attempt to prevent gun deaths. The House has acted and will continue to take action to save lives, and that means further steps to pass commonsense gun violence prevention legislation. It’s up to the Senate to finally follow through and speak up for their constituents who support these commonsense measures to help make our communities safe.”
– John Bresnahan and Heather Caygle
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First in Punchbowl News: House Majority PAC is running a new television ad hitting House Republicans for opposing Democratic bills aimed at capping the price of insulin, alleviating the baby formula shortage, lowering gas prices and fixing supply chains.
Some Democratic strategists have called for the party to more forcefully attack Republicans for voting against broadly popular measures. This ad is a reflection of that thinking.
Note: This is a small ad buy, airing in the D.C. market, and it’s mainly a messaging spot. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see what the House Democratic leadership-aligned super PAC is trying to do to turn around the party’s fortunes ahead of November.
Katie Arrington, the Republican primarying Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), has a new ad in which people are walking into a store to ask for a refund on Mace because, in part, she turned against former President Donald Trump. The primary is June 14.
Check out this spot running in Phoenix, D.C., Boston, Las Vegas and Tucson. New Democracy is running an ad saying that inflation is rippling throughout the country and Congress is focused on regulating Big Tech, which, in this group’s telling, would harm services like Google Maps. The ad is referring to the bipartisan bill to crack down on Big Tech penned by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), a fundraising powerhouse, reported that she raised $1.8 million between April 1 and May 18. She has $18.7 million on hand.
— Max Cohen and Jake Sherman
The House and Senate are out of session.
9 a.m.: President Joe Biden will leave the White House for Annapolis, Md. He will arrive at 9:20 a.m.
10 a.m.: Biden will speak at the Naval Academy’s graduation and commissioning ceremony.
1:55 p.m.: Biden will leave Annapolis for Delaware. He’ll arrive at 2:30 p.m.
“US preparing to approve advanced long-range rocket system for Ukraine,” by Jim Sciutto, Natasha Bertrand and Alex Marquardt
“Parents Express Anger at Police Response to Uvalde School Massacre,” by Natalie Kitroeff, Frances Robles, J. David Goodman and Serge F. Kovaleski
“U.S. Aims to Constrain China by Shaping Its Environment, Blinken Says,” by Edward Wong and Ana Swanson
“U.S. to Begin Allowing Migrants to Apply for Asylum Under a New System,” by Eileen Sullivan
“As timeline emerges, police criticized for response to school massacre,” by Jon Swaine, Joyce Sohyun Lee and Mark Berman
“What research shows on the effectiveness of gun-control laws,” by Glenn Kessler
“US Plans Economic Talks With Taiwan in Latest Challenge to China,” by Jenny Leonard
“Ukraine Slams Idea of Swapping Land for Peace,” by Matthew Luxmoore
Kevin McCathy and Jim Jordan: “The Jan. 6 Committee Is Weaponizing Majority Rule”
“NRA opens gun convention in Texas after school massacre,” by Juan Lozano and David A. Lieb in Houston
“Baby formula shortage highlights racial disparities,” by Jacquelyn Martin, Adriana Gomez Licon and Terry Tang
“‘This didn’t feel like a time to ask permission’: After Texas school shooting, students walk out for gun law reform,” by Alia Wong and Chris Quintana
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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.
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