WASHINGTON – Congressional efforts to pass or even debate serious gun-control legislation are over for the foreseeable future.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put the legislation aside Thursday as it became clear that gun control forces lacked the votes to pass major measures they sought.
The Nevada Democrat said he’d spoken to President Barack Obama and they agreed that “the best way to keep working toward passing a background check bill is to hit a pause and freeze the background check bill where it is.”
Reid vowed to fight another day. “Make no mistake: This debate is not over. This is not the end of the fight,” he said.
But it is for now, thanks to a series of stinging defeats Wednesday. Gun control forces lost bids to ban assault weapons, limit the size of ammunition clips and, most disappointing to them, strengthen the background check system.
As a result, major gun-control votes aren’t expected anytime soon. The Senate plans to leave April 26 for a nine-day spring recess. It might consider measures in May, but chances are that’s too soon to expect votes to switch or deals to be negotiated.
June is likely to be consumed with immigration issues, and senators are expected to be engaged in budget fights in July. They’ll leave Aug. 3 for a summer recess, and they don’t plan to return until Sept. 9.
The Republican-led House of Representatives is unlikely to take the initiative. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio offered only vague assurances Thursday.
“Our committees are going to continue to look at the violence in our society and look at these tragedies and determine whether there are common-sense steps that we can take to reduce the chances of this,” he said.
This much was clear Thursday: Gun control interests remained staggered by the Wednesday votes. They had the most hope for a carefully written compromise that would expand background checks, only to have it fall six votes short.
They spoke Thursday of how changes might be made or new pressure applied, particularly to Republicans who represent urban areas.
Reid vowed to return to the issue, and he said new amendments would be considered on a variety of topics, including mental health and background checks.
One key Republican, Sen. Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania, indicated that he was reluctant to begin efforts to fashion a new background-check compromise. He and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., were architects of the unsuccessful background-check plan.
“The Senate has spoken,” said Toomey, one of four Republicans who voted for the plan. “It’s not obvious how to move forward. I gave it my best shot.”
The thinking among Democratic leaders was that they now could apply pressure two ways. First, point out, as Reid put it, “Republicans are in an unsustainable position: crosswise with 9 out of 10 Americans.” Polls find overwhelming support for most background checks.
Second, fight harder against gun interests. Obama is leading that charge, and senators vowed Thursday to apply new public pressure in the form of ads, lobbying and other means to convince colleagues that some kinds of limits on gun use and sales are imperative.
“Our job is to spread awareness, spread the rage that we feel,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.