A Senate Breakthrough on Gun Control as Republican Filibuster Is Defeated

The Democrats beat back a GOP filibuster in a critical test of strength. Howard Kurtz on whether the gun-control legislation really has a chance.

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call, via Getty

The Senate beat back a Republican filibuster on gun legislation Thursday morning by a vote of 68-31, clearing the way for possible floor votes and giving the Obama administration and its allies a glimmer of hope.

It was only a tentative first step, but a crucial showdown nonetheless. The GOP failed to muster the necessary 60 votes to cut off debate, opening the door to a legislative compromise that would still face numerous obstacles on the road to passing the Republican-controlled House.

In the early skirmishing, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said: “It’s just gotta end. The answer can’t be as it has been for 20 years that we’re gonna do nothing.”

Another Democrat, Patrick Leahy, urged his colleagues to have the “courage” to “stand up and be counted.” A filibuster, he said, says “you’re not willing to take a stand.”

But Republican Sen. John Cornyn, taking pains to say that he had met with some Newtown families, said that “I am not interested in Congress voting on a measure that will have no impact on the horrific violence we’ve seen in recent months.”

Cornyn dismissed a widely hailed compromise on stricter background checks for gun buyers, hammered out by two NRA supporters, Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Pat Toomey. He said the two lawmakers have yet to release the details. But they have been making the television rounds, talking up an agreement on requiring background investigations for online and gun show sales.

It appeared in recent weeks that GOP opponents, led by Rand Paul and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, would keep any legislation off the floor. But President Obama stepped up the pressure, in part with an emotional speech in Connecticut this week after huddling with families who lost loved ones in the Newtown tragedy.

Vice President Biden continued the campaign Thursday morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, saying “the public is so far ahead of the electorate” on this issue.

The administration still supports a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, but those measures seem to be going nowhere on the Hill in the face of fierce NRA opposition.

In a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 55 support stricter laws on the sale of firearms, down 6 percent from the survey taken after Obama made the issue a centerpiece of his State of the Union address. The partisan breakdown in the new poll could hardly be more stark, with 82 percent of Democrats favoring stricter laws and just 27 percent of Republicans.