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Biden pushes new gun control measures, decrying blanket legal exemptions for gun manufacturers



“Imagine how different it would be, had that same exemption been available to tobacco companies, who knew and lied about the danger they were causing,” Biden said. “Imagine where we’d be.”

Biden went on to say that if he were granted only one wish on changing gun policy, it would be to end that legislative prohibition on suing gun manufacturers. “Give me that one,” he said. “Because I’ll tell you what—there would be a come-to-the-Lord moment these folks would have real quickly.”

Biden is right. As progressive activist and former gun control advocate Joe Sudbay regularly points out, gun manufacturers get two free passes that no other industry enjoys: 1) guns are the only consumer product designed to kill while also being specifically exempted from regulation by the Consumer Product Safety Commission; 2) gun manufacturers get blanket immunity from liability, even if a manufacturing defect leads to accidental deaths, for instance.

For anyone who cares about gun violence and curbing the proliferation of guns in this country, the politics of gun control have been maddening for many years. The dependence of Republican lawmakers on campaign donations from the gun lobby—and the National Rifle Association, in particular—have snarled federal gun safety legislation for the better part of two decades. Even with the NRA’s recent implosion and financial trouble, GOP lawmakers seem to have cast their lot with the increasing minority of Americans who believe their Second Amendment rights supersede the importance of saving innocent lives. Frankly, it is just one of a host of issues on which the Republican Party has wed itself to advocating for a cultural minority of the country.

Senate Republicans stand in the way of any progress due to their insistence on filibustering any and all Democratic bills, gun safety bills included. This session, two House-passed gun control bills already await Senate action. And while it’s questionable whether either of those bills could pass the Senate with a simple majority, certain measures likely could attract several GOP votes for final passage if the filibuster were reformed.

Enhancing background checks, for instance, is wildly popular. Requiring background checks on all gun sales has polled at roughly 90% for years now (sometimes a little below, sometimes a little above). And indeed, the bipartisan Manchin-Toomey bill that failed to clear the Senate in 2013 garnered the bipartisan support of 55 senators. (Majority Leader Harry Reid changed his final vote to preserve his ability to bring up the measure again.)

So, but for the filibuster, enacting certain gun reforms would likely be possible. And while that is absolutely a frustrating reality, it is also makes gun control issues anything but exceptional in this political moment. It’s not lack of support or Democrats hiding from the issue as they once did. It’s GOP obstructionism and abuse of the filibuster. 

Perhaps the most encouraging development on gun control is the fact that the politics of the issue have clearly changed. If you look at the Civiqs tracking poll below, you’ll note a predictable pattern of support for gun reforms spiking in the wake of horrific mass shootings and then dropping off again. But here’s what has changed for the better: If you look back to the Charleston church massacre in the summer 2015, prior to that event, opposition to gun control reforms was running roughly even with support. Ever since then, support has typically run at least a handful of points or more ahead of opposition. 

Also, if you’re specifically courting women voters, their support for stricter gun laws has hovered around 60% or more ever since the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, in 2016.

House Democrats—who will be fighting tooth and nail to keep their majority in 2022—have also clearly concluded passing stricter gun laws is a political winner. Otherwise, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi never would have called a vote on two bills that both expand background checks and lengthen the window for completing them. Even members like Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, who hails from Virginia’s swingy 7th District, are emphasizing their support gun reforms.

“The American people expect action,” she wrote in a tweet on March 31. “We are asking the Senate to act and vote on H.R. 8 and H.R. 1446 … The Senate must bring them for a vote.”

In other words, the issue is helping Democratic members who know they will be in for a tough fight next year.

As Biden announced his new executive actions Thursday, he said, “This is just a start. We have a lot of work to do.”

For now, enacting stricter gun laws is like every other Democratic issue: held hostage by a GOP Senate minority that has weaponized the filibuster. That means tightening the nation’s gun laws will rise and fall with the fate of every other Democratic priority this congressional session. Eventually, something will have to give. 



Oath Keepers ‘lifetime member’ agrees to cooperate with prosecutors in Jan. 6 insurrection case



Schaffer’s guilty plea to two charges—obstructing an official proceeding and illegally entering the Capitol grounds—makes him the first participant in the insurrection to agree to provide evidence against his fellow rioters. Schaffer, who originally faced six felony charges, will enter the government’s witness protection program as part of the deal.

According to an earlier filing, which was mistakenly made public, Schaffer in March began engaging in “debrief interviews.” As The Washington Post notes, the plea bargain marks a critical step forward in the prosecution of the cases, as other defendants face similar choices in terms of providing evidence for prosecutors, particularly when it comes to the activities of the two key paramilitary organizations involved in the insurrection, the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys.

“Whenever you have a large group of people arrested,” criminal defense attorney Martin Tankleff told CNN, it’s common for prosecutors to pressure defendants to flip on each other. “They’re going to start talking. They’re going to start sharing information.”

Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who was present in Washington on Jan. 6 but did not enter the Capitol, is one of the key figures being drawn into the net prosecutors are creating with conspiracy charges involving other members of his group. Though federal indictments handed down against his Oath Keepers and Proud Boys cohorts have not named him personally, he is referenced in several of them as “Person 1,” a central player in what prosecutors are describing as a conspiracy to “stop, delay, or hinder Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote.”

“I may go to jail soon,” Rhodes recently told a right-wing rally in Texas. “Not for anything I actually did, but for made-up crimes. There are some Oath Keepers right now along with Proud Boys and other patriots who are in D.C. who are sitting in jail denied bail despite the supposed right to a jury trial before you’re found guilty and presumption of innocence, were denied bail because the powers that be don’t like their political views.”

Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola’s attorney wrote in court filings that he believed a so-called “cooperating witness” was sharing information about the Proud Boys. An earlier filing by prosecutors had revealed that this witness heard Proud Boys members claim that “anyone they got their hands on they would have killed,” including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and that they would have also killed then-Vice President Mike Pence “if given the chance.” The men—who all had firearms or access to them—also talked about returning to Washington for Inauguration Day, and that “they plan to kill every single ‘m-fer’ they can.” That witness, prosecutors noted, has not been charged with a crime.

Most of the defendants, as a New York Times piece recently explored, are facing substantial evidence of their crimes culled from videos and photos both in mainstream media and on social media. Indeed, a large portion of that evidence was provided by the insurrectionists themselves.

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Republicans can’t agree with themselves on how tiny an infrastructure package to demand



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An estimated $41.8 billion is needed to repair structurally deficient bridges alone—never mind getting ahead of the bridges that will become structurally deficient in the coming years. Or talking about roads, rail, broadband, schools, veterans’ hospitals, ports, airports, replacing lead pipes for drinking water, caring for our elders while boosting some of the fastest-growing occupations, and supporting medical manufacturing.

As absurd a low-ball as Capito’s $600 to $800 billion was, though, at least she said something that she would be willing to talk about. More Republicans are just saying “No! Smaller!” and counting on voters to recoil from a corporate tax increase.

Voters, however, support raising corporate taxes to pay for infrastructure—in one poll, telling people that infrastructure would be paid for by a corporate tax hike actually increases support for the plan. Another new poll, from Navigator Research, finds narrow majority support for the infrastructure plan that grows to 70% support when people learn what’s in it, with large majorities of independent voters supporting many of the specific components of the American Jobs Plan, including the senior care proposal that congressional Republicans are so intent on disqualifying as “not really infrastructure.”

Even a majority of Republicans polled support that proposal, along with eliminating lead pipes, investing to protect against future pandemics, investing in rail systems, upgrading and building new schools and child care facilities, and more. Things like clean energy and investing in communities of color don’t get Republican majorities, but they do get independent majorities and strong Democratic support. If these proposals would get support from just half the proportion of Republican lawmakers as Republican voters, they would be seen as strongly bipartisan. But instead, congressional Republicans ignore the polling and yell about how Biden is steamrolling them because his willingness to compromise doesn’t extend to being steamrolled himself. These people are not operating in good faith. Doing so would be in violation of their deepest principles and would probably get them kicked out of their party. And they should be dealt with—and reported on—accordingly.

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McConnell flat-out tells Republicans to use Manchin and Sinema to obstruct Biden, Democrats



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While that was happening, McConnell was telling Republicans to make nice to Manchin and Sinema to co-opt them to his agenda by boosting their already healthy egos. In an interview with Politico, McConnell demonstrated the tactic. “What they’ve been very forthright about is protecting the institution against pressures from their own party. I know what that’s like,” McConnell said, recalling Trump’s constant pressure to make him nuke the filibuster. “Every time I said no. And it’s nice that there are Democrats left who respect the institution and don’t want to destroy the very essence of the Senate.”

Of course, McConnell didn’t get rid of the filibuster on legislation because he cared about the Senate, which he had already laid to waste. He kept it because it kept the truly bonkers stuff the Republican House and Trump were coming up with in the first two years of Trump’s term from being viable in the Senate. McConnell didn’t want to have to preserve the Republican majority on that record. The second reason was that all he really wanted coming out of the Trump years was a stranglehold on the judiciary, which he achieved by—nuking the filibuster on Supreme Court appointees. Oh, and tax cuts. Which he achieved by the same non-filibusterable budget reconciliation he’s condemning now. So much for his vaunted love for the institution.

Nonetheless, his team is going forward on his command to co-opt the two tools of the Democrats. “For me right now, they’re almost guardians of democracy because they’re trying to protect us from the loss of the legislative filibuster and everything that would come with that. They’re good people,” John Thune, McConnell’s number two, told Politico—which is always willing to help spread GOP gospel. “They want to do the right thing.” If by “democracy” you mean minority rule, which Thune clearly does. Because that’s what Sinema and Manchin are protecting here.

Manchin told Politico “I just hope [Republicans] help me a little bit in bipartisanship. […] That’s all.” Good luck with that, Joe. “He said he believes Republicans aren’t all talk and no give, that ‘they really want to work.'” Sure. Because here’s what’s really happening, and Republicans are happy to admit it: “When they can’t drive compromise directly through legislation that’s passed through budget reconciliation, GOP senators can influence the process by keeping close ties to Sinema and Manchin.”

For example, Manchin’s last-minute intervention that nearly blew up the American Rescue Plan—the critical COVID-19 relief bill passed last month—was so much string-pulling by his Republican “friend” Rob Portman of Ohio, to cut back unemployment benefits by $100 a week and to cut the federal boost in payments off in early September, instead of at the end of October.

Politico baldly lays out the machinations here: “No Republicans supported that legislation, but they were able to make their mark through Manchin.” In other words, he’s being used.

Manchin and Sinema’s influence has “been very helpful,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). “Now, I don’t want to overstate that. I don’t think either one of them have fundamentally changed the direction of important Democratic legislation just yet. But they’ve certainly slowed down a lot of the more radical ideas.”

Like the radical notion of voting rights. Or the radical idea that $7.25 an hour is not enough to live on in almost every part of the country.

One of the “moderates” in the Democratic conference, the Maine Independent Angus King, basically endorsed Schumer’s approach. He said that he wants to see just how many Republicans are willing to cross over to help out before reforming the filibuster, but he is definitely putting the onus on them. “It’s up to them,” he told The Hill, citing a Washington Post op-ed he wrote last month: “What happens to the filibuster depends on how Republicans play their hand.”

Whether Manchin got that message isn’t entirely clear. “Chuck Schumer spoke more about bipartisan today than I’ve ever heard him speak about,” Manchin told reporters. “He wants—’Everything we’re doing, we’ll try to do bipartisan. Let’s work on bipartisan, reach out to your friends,'” is how Manchin interpreted it. It was probably more grammatically correct in the original.

Schumer’s deploying the only strategy that makes sense at this point, with Manchin and Sinema digging in their heels—put the onus on them to find Republicans to help. It would be satisfying if he took that a bit further and made Manchin, in particular, prove his assertion that there are 10 Republicans willing to work with him by getting public statements from them. But this will do for now.

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