Harry Reid’s dubious role in the battle for new gun laws

Where we last left off with the battle on Capitol Hill for new gun control laws, Joe Biden offered encouraging words to NPR listeners after discouraged Democrats dropped assault weapons and high-capacity ammo bans from their legislation package for a stricter criminal background check system. “I am still pushing that it pass,” the vice president said during the interview. “The same thing was told to me when the first assault weapons ban in 1994 was attached to the Biden Crime bill, that it couldn’t possibly pass … I haven’t given up on this.”

The U.S. Senate went into recess two days after Biden’s interview; they return to the floor April 8. And, anticipating that return, the New York Times ran a sweet piece of fanfare on Sunday that illustrates Harry Reid’s role in this proposal. Just because Nevada’s senate majority leader ultimately made the decision to remove the assault weapons ban from the upcoming proposal doesn’t mean he’s backing down from the fight. According to NYT, he plans to squeeze in new gun laws one at a time.

From “As Views Shift on Guns, Reid Corrals Senate“:

Next week, [the Senate] will consider a bill that would expand background checks and increase penalties for so-called straw purchases, in which someone buys a gun for another person who is unable to buy one. Mr. Reid opted not to include in the bill a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines but plans to hold a separate vote on both measures. His hope was to not let the less popular measures jeopardize passage of the expanded background checks.

According to the story Reid, hailing from a state historically deep in the red, has managed “an evolution — less flip-flops than than slow dances to the left” when it comes to reeling in constituents. Reid has been senate majority leader since 2007 and held his seat since 1987, but it’s only been in the last few years that Democrats begun to gain traction in the Silver State. Last spring, twice as many voters registered Democrat instead of Republican, and, aside from Bill Clinton, Barack Obama is the only Democratic candidate to win the Nevada Electoral College — and twice, mind you — since the 1960s. It’s only a matter of time, apparently, until Reid recognizes enough leverage in his state before he gets more aggressive in gun legislation.

However Talking Points Memo’s Brian Beutler points out that the Democrats, and Reid, have little reason to wait because of the Senate’s new filibuster rules, adopted in January. “When the Senate changed its rules at the beginning of this Congress, Dems and Republicans … create[d] a process that allows any senator (but by custom, the majority leader) to bring a bill to the floor for debate with 50 votes,” Beutler explains. “It’s not entirely clear to me why exactly Reid and other Democrats aren’t brandishing this new power … A more cynical theory is that Reid just doesn’t want this background check bill on the floor at all and he’s just pretending he lacks the power to bring it there.”

But not all gun control proponents are buying that theory. “He deserves a lot of credit for having the guts to stick his neck out,” NYC Mayor and gun law reform champion Michael Bloomberg told NYT in an email, “especially on guns … when others are worried about special-interest politics.”

Like Biden, Reid may be simply running the long game on guns.