On the morning after he promised he wasn’t giving up his fight to curb sales of military-style rifles, Vice President Joe Biden looked to make good on his vow by getting out on the road today to stump for his cause of the year.
But the place he chose to go spoke volumes about the fate of the assault weapons ban, if not the entire Obama agenda for curbing armed violence. It wasn’t Charlotte, New Orleans, Little Rock, Anchorage or Billings — cities in red states represented by Democratic senators whose votes would be essential to advancing any gun control bill past an NRA-stoked filibuster, but would also significantly complicate their 2014 re-election prospects.
Instead, the veep landed this morning in New York, the epicenter of public support for assertive new gun control and the home turf of its second most-powerful advocate, Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
In electoral terms, Biden’s trip wasn’t about winning over swing voters; it was about bucking up the base. In other words, it's not about pushing as hard as possible to eke out a majority in a vote that can’t be postponed. It's about keeping core supporters hopeful and generous for a campaign that’s now going to last as long as the rest of this presidency.
Biden conceded as much in an interview with NPR broadcast last night, when asked what he would do now that Majority Leader Harry Reid has decided to keep language banning 157 semi-automatic weapons out of the bill he’ll put before the Senate next month. That bill will instead be focused on universalizing background checks for would-be gun buyers, criminalizing strawman gun purchases and restricting high-capacity ammunition clips. Reid said there were no more than 40 Senate votes for such a ban, so retaining that language could jeopardize the entire package.
“I have never found that it makes any sense to support something and declare that there is no possibility of it passing,” said Biden, who earned a reputation for resurrecting all sorts of moribund legislation during his decades in the Senate –including the last assault weapons ban, which was enacted in 1994 after several previous tries came up short. “There is a lot happening. Attitudes are changing, and I think the president and I are going to continue to push and we haven't given up on it.”
“This doesn't necessarily happen in one fell swoop,” he said of the current gun control push, adding that winning the tossup battle for expanded background checks would be “gigantic.” He also noted that the administration will still seek a Senate test vote on the weapons ban — which is sure to happen, because the NRA wants to pin senators down in plenty of time before the midterm.
“I don't see this as, there's an automatic end point. That, OK, there's one vote, this is it, fails, now we move on. We are going to continue to push for logical, gun safety regulations. Eventually, the will of the people is going to prevail and we're going to keep at it.”
That is the sound of one of the most accomplished legislative dealmakers in recent congressional history. It also explains why he’s in Manhattan today.
Sooner or later, another paroxysm of violence will push the polling another notch toward what Biden wants as the No. 1 legacy of his vice presidency. To be ready for that, he needs to court Bloomberg’s money and influence more now than he needs to agitate on the home turf of Kay Hagan, Mary L. Landrieu, Mark Pryor, Mark Begich or Max Baucus.