Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has decided to split legislation banning assault weapons from an overall package of expanded gun control measures set for the floor next week. It has been an open secret in Washington that most gun control measures, and the assault weapons ban in particular, faced long odds passing Congress. Reid’s move, however, cleverly structures the votes in a way to give maximum benefit to the many incumbent Democrats running for reelection in red states next year.
Most accounts suggest that Reid jettisoned the assault weapons ban from the overall bill, so as not to weigh down other the measures with the controversial proposal. That is certainly true, but by also allowing the proposal to be brought forward as an amendment, he gives red-state Democrats the opportunity to vote against the ban. This will help them greatly in next year’s election, even if other, more modest or weak measures pass.
Bringing the ban to the floor as an amendment is not a tactic to allow supporters of a ban to show their approval. Rather, it is a deliberate effort to allow Democrats running for reelection to vote against the ban. Expect almost all Democrats up for reelection in red or swing states to vote against the amendment.
Gun control waxes and wanes with politics. At the beginning of the year, with public anger of the Newtown shootings fresh and the midterms far-off, the politics didn’t look as messy as they look now. The most sweeping gun proposals will stand-alone as amendments, to be voted down by Republicans and Democrats alike. In the end, some tightening of existing restrictions will likely pass with broad support.
Reid cares most about one issue; remaining Majority Leader. Real gun control jeopardized that. Orchestrated votes by vulnerable Democrats against gun control may save it. Ironically, Democrats keeping control of the Senate may hinge on voting down gun control.