All eyes now shift to Harry Reid. With the Senate Judiciary Committee completing its work on a series of gun measures Thursday, the majority leader must determine his strategy for how the full chamber will move forward in response to last year’s Connecticut school shooting.
Reid told reporters Thursday that he has conferred with Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt. “He and I are going to sit down, find out now what has been reported out of the committee and what we need to put together as a base bill to start legislating on the Senate floor,” the Nevada Democrat said.
Leahy also pledged to work with Reid “to see how he intends to proceed.”
A renewal of the assault weapons ban, in particular, could put Reid in a bind. He has not publicly endorsed the highly controversial measure and may be reluctant to bring it to a floor vote, given that about 10 Democrats from gun-friendly states face re-election next year and are uneasy about — or, in some cases, outright opposed — to the measure.
At the same time, Senate Democrats are mindful of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he made an emotional plea for action — as shooting victims and their families looked on from the House galleries — by repeating his contention that gun violence victims “deserve a vote.” Obama pointedly used that phrase again in a statement Thursday thanking the Judiciary Committee for its work.
“The Senate has now advanced legislation addressing three of the most important elements of my proposal to help reduce the epidemic of gun violence in this country,” the president said, referring to the assault weapons bill (S 150) and measures that crack down on gun trafficking (S 54) and expand background checks for gun sales (S 374).
“Now the full Senate and the House need to vote on this bill, as well as [other] measures,” Obama added. “Each of these proposals deserves a vote.”
The Judiciary Committee backed the assault weapons ban, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., along party lines Thursday and approved the other measures during two previous days of markup. It also backed separate legislation (S 146) that would boost funds for school safety.
“We’ve essentially completed our work,” Leahy told his panel. Later, both he and Judiciary’s ranking Republican, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, said they do not expect additional committee markups on gun-related legislation.
Still unclear is whether all of the gun legislation reported by the Judiciary Committee will be considered on the Senate floor and whether it would come up as a package or in individual parts.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.