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Reid Downplays Chances for Assault Gun Ban, Filibuster Changes

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told a Nevada television station Friday that the Senate is unlikely to pass an assault weapons ban or a radical revamp of filibuster rules.

But the Democratic leader was optimistic about changes to immigration laws, noting that it will be the chamber’s top priority this year.

In the interview that aired on Vegas PBS this weekend, Reid, a gun rights supporter, struck a pragmatic tone on gun control measures.

“Let’s be realistic. In the Senate, we’re going to do what we think can get through the House. And I’m not going to be going through a bunch of these gyrations just to say we’ve done something because if we’re really legislators, the purpose of it is to pass legislation,” Reid said.

He said he wants to see what President Barack Obama wants to do by administrative means. Reid also expressed reservations about legislation to outlaw assault weapons, a measure that he has long opposed.

“Is it something that can pass the Senate? Maybe. Is it something that can pass the House? I doubt it,” Reid said. “So I think there are things that we know we can do.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the No. 3 Democratic leader and a longtime supporter of stronger gun regulations, told reporters Monday that while he would like to see a more comprehensive approach to gun regulation, any incremental step would be positive.

“I think that Vice President Biden as well as those of us in the Senate who have been involved in the pro-gun-safety movement and those in the House are trying to figure out the maximum package that we think is passable,” Schumer said.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is providing Obama with new gun safety proposals Tuesday, and the president said Monday that he would release them later this week.

“I think everyone should just take a deep breath and realize where we are and where we need to go. We have too much violence in our society,” Reid said. “It’s not just from guns; it’s from a lot of stuff, and I think we should take a look at television, movies, video games and weapons. And I hope that everybody will just be careful and cautious.”

Reid said he would discourage action only “to get a headline in a newspaper.”

Filibuster Changes Will Be Modest

On the question of Senate rules, which are due to be the first item for action when the chamber returns Jan. 22, Reid offered suggestions that could form the framework for a deal with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. But his proposals would fall short of what Democratic advocates and outside groups have pushed for. Democrats have argued that Republicans have forced them to file cloture, or a motion to cut off debate, on too many pieces of legislation, resulting in bills being either blocked or delayed because of the time-consuming nature of the cloture process.

“If you invoke cloture on a piece of legislation, people get 30 hours to sit around and do nothing. I want to get rid of that,” Reid said. “I think that we have to make sure that on a regular piece of legislation, if somebody wants to continue objecting to it after the cloture’s been invoked, they should have to stand and talk. There should be a talking filibuster.”

While he used the term “talking filibuster,” Reid was not referencing the plan floated by several Democratic senators, including Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Tom Udall of New Mexico. Those senators want a process by which the cloture process could be negated if Senators do not take to the floor to oppose it. That plan could nullify the 60-vote threshold to cut off a filibuster in current rules. Reid did not suggest this, saying the proposal he is envisioning would be post-cloture.

He does want to see ways to curb the 30 hours of debate after the 60-vote margin has been established and wants to cut down the number of cloture motions needed to get a bill into conference with the House.

“If you tune in to C-SPAN, you see quorum call in progress. Well, I want to stop those quorum calls,” he said on Vegas PBS. Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, has predicted the Senate will reach a compromise to prevent a toxic standoff over a rules change.

Immigration Will Be ‘No. 1 Item’

While liberal activists are likely to be disappointed in Reid’s comments on the “Nevada Week in Review” program, they may have much better feelings about his statements in support of an immigration overhaul. He said he talked Friday with leadership and staff and determined “it’s going to be the first thing on our agenda.”

“Immigration’s our No. 1 item” on the list of top 10 priorities for Senate Democrats in the new Congress, he said.

“We’re going to do immigration. Schumer’s the head of that subcommittee. He replaced Sen. [Edward M.] Kennedy, and we have a bipartisan proposal,” he said.

Reid also suggested that a legislative proposal on immigration including a path to citizenship and a measure similar to the DREAM Act to provide more access for people who came to the United States as children had a greater chance of coming together than some may believe.

He said a bipartisan group of senators working on the issue “have agreed tentatively on a path to citizenship, which is the big stumbling block.”

The interview aired several times over the weekend in Nevada, where Reid has been spending time since the Senate departed for a two-week break after action on Jan. 4.

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