Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.

Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

Senate Democrats are split on gun strategy

  • New York Times
  • January 17, 2013 - 9:11 PM


WASHINGTON - As congressional Democrats shape their strategy for considering President Obama's proposals to curb gun violence, sharp divisions are forming between lawmakers who believe the best path to success is through narrowly written bills and a meticulous legislative process and those who advocate a more guerrilla approach.

Many Democrats, and some Senate Republicans, believe the only legislation that has a whisper of a chance of passing would be bills that are tightly focused on more consensus elements such as enhancing background checks or limits on magazines, subjected to debate in committee and then brought to a vote after building bipartisan support.

That would be a departure from recent years, when leadership often sidestepped committees and sought to take fights directly to the floor.

Others, particularly those senators who have long fought for gun-control measures, believe a plodding process allows too much time for opposition to build and prefer to fast-track the measures by adding them as amendments to other bills.

"We can't sit around for months talking and letting the gun lobby run out the clock," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.

"If we're going to make progress, it's essential that we move quickly and start voting as soon as possible."

Democrats are united on one point: For any legislation to reach the Senate floor, Obama will have to put the full weight of his office and bully pulpit behind it.

Without constant public pressure and a concerted effort to woo conservative Democrats, especially those up for re-election in red states in two years, there will be little impetus to move legislation along, numerous Democrats said.

Democrats also may be forced to decide whether to endure a lengthy legislative battle on guns at the expense of priorities like immigration.

Recognizing that public pressure is going to be required to move such contentious measures, the president's former campaign aides in the weeks ahead will convert the Obama for America operation into a different kind of outside political group led by Jim Messina, the president's former campaign manager, according to people familiar with the plans.

The new organization will be able to raise money for grass-roots campaigning on behalf of the president's second-term agenda, they said.

Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader who has spearheaded other legislation desired by the White House, will take a more passive role with any gun legislation, aides to Senate Democrats say, letting the administration set the agenda and allowing senators to press ahead through their committee leadership or interest in the issue.

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