A hunter and lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, Democrat Joe Manchin won his Senate seat after airing an ad that showed him firing a rifle and shooting a hole in the cap-and-trade bill backed by President Obama. Now the West Virginia senator is the point man on Capitol Hill for reviving legislation on background checks for gun buyers that lawmakers killed just three weeks ago. With polls showing the public turning on some Republican senators who voted against the popular bill, Manchin’s crusade for a second wave of gun legislation could succeed.
Sen. Joe Manchin is followed by reporters as he walks from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office in early April after a meeting on gun control. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
“This isn’t gun control, this is gun sense,” Manchin said Saturday at a forum in Washington, where he shared the stage with liberal MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. “I’m a gun owner, I come from a gun culture. If I couldn’t bring some credibility to that issue, why am I here?” His goal, he said, is to have another vote in the Senate before the August recess. “We’re going to pass this thing,” he said. “Don’t give up.”
Gun-control groups are regrouping after a bill to tighten background checks for gun sales failed to overcome a filibuster last week in the Senate. The failure was not only a stinging defeat for President Obama, it was also a setback for the new players in the debate. In this interview, Third Way co-founder Jim Kessler speaks with NPR’s Mara Liasson about the past and future of gun safety reform.
Politicians know they incur a big political risk if they support gun-control legislation. Gun-control advocates have to demonstrate that there is also a political risk if they do not support sensible gun legislation.
The only way to do that is to defeat someone who voted against background checks. Their defeat will become a “teachable moment.”
Defying your base is always risky. It can either bring you down — or it can make you look stronger.
Right now, politicians in both parties are trying to pull it off. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) – a likely contender for the 2016 Republican nomination – is preparing to challenge conservatives on immigration reform. President Barack Obama is defying liberals on entitlement reform. What are they thinking?
Using average presidential approval ratings, this infographic illustrates the growing ideological divide in American politics. As you can see, the partisan gap has grown significantly in the last half-century. What is the effect on our political process? Will it continue to grow?
More than 25 years ago, Representative Jack Kemp told me, “In the past, the left had a thesis: spending, redistribution of wealth and deficits. Republicans were the antithesis: spending is bad.”
He went on to explain, “Ronald Reagan represented a breakthrough for our party. We could talk about lower taxes and more growth. We didn’t have to spend all our time preaching austerity and spending cuts. The question now is: Do we take our thesis and move it further, or do we revert to an anti-spending party?”
We now have the answer. Republicans have reverted to an anti-spending party. Their latest cause? Austerity. Their argument? A shrinking economy is better than big government.
The spirit was less confrontational than the inaugural address. The President repeatedly called for bipartisanship and compromise. He denounced partisanship and called for common purpose.
One thing Republicans will likely object to: the President’s repeated call for the wealthiest Americans to do “their fair share’” and pay more in taxes and Medicare premiums. Republicans will call that class warfare and more tax hikes.
The President made a strong argument that economic growth is a higher priority than deficit reduction. That’s where he and Republicans part company. Republicans believe deficit reduction is a prerequisite for economic growth. Obama said that “reckless spending cuts” will inhibit growth. He insisted on a “balanced’” approach to deficit reduction, including both “revenue increases” (mostly through tax reform) and cautious spending cuts.
He called the looming sequesters (across-the-board spending cuts) a “manufactured crisis.”’ That is exactly what they are. The American public has no idea where this impending crisis is coming from and they do not see it as real. The President re-enforced that notion and warned that allowing the sequesters to go into effect would jeopardize the nation’s security, devastate our priorities and cost “hundreds of thousands of jobs.” Bottom line: he called the sequesters “a really bad idea.”
President Obama argued that nothing he proposed “should increase our deficit by a single dime.” Several of the initiatives he proposed would be financed without tax revenues. The Energy Security Trust would come from “oil and gas revenues.” Private capital would pay for the Partnership to Rebuild America.” The non-partisan commission to improve voting procedures would cost very little tax money.
President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night will pick up where his inaugural speech left off. He’s expected to bring up the issues of the economy, overhauling immigration, gun control and the budget. NPR’s Mara Liasson spoke with Third Way’s Jim Kessler about what we should, likely will, and won’t hear in Obama’s State of the Union tonight.
“[President Obama] did the right thing when he laid out his principles. It was not a crazy wish list… it didn’t include licensing and registration. It didn’t include one-gun-a-month limits. It didn’t include waiting periods. It was a very measured package that was moderate.”
Two tough issues — immigration reform and gun control. “It won’t be easy,” President Barack Obama said about gun control in December, “but that’s no excuse not to try.” Tuesday, he said about immigration reform: “The closer we get, the more emotional this debate is going to become.”
Which does he stand a better chance of winning? Answer: immigration. On immigration, Obama has Democrats strongly behind him. Republicans are divided — and freaked out by the issue. On guns, he’s got Republicans strongly against him. Democrats are divided — and freaked out by the issue.
On both issues, the president has the public solidly behind him. That’s his biggest asset. “There’s already a growing consensus for us to build from,” he said on Dec. 19, five days after the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre. “A majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons.’’ On Jan. 29, when he went to Las Vegas to speak about immigration reform, he said, “A broad consensus is emerging and … a call for action can be heard coming from all across America.”
Even more important, the president’s popularity is soaring. He has a 60 percent favorable rating in the new Washington Post-ABC News poll, the highest since his first year in office.
The president intends to use the bully pulpit to rally public opinion behind both causes. He also intends to use his 2012 campaign organization, which has morphed from Obama for America to Organizing for Action, to browbeat Congress into action. Welcome to real the permanent campaign.