2020 Dems unify around assault weapons ban, putting pressure on colleagues

Democratic senators seen as possible contenders for the White House in 2020 are all taking positions in strong support of an assault weapons ban, pressuring their colleagues up for reelection this year.

Though the positioning may not effect the prospects of legislation, its support by all of the 2020 would-be candidates puts lawmakers like Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn Heitkamp70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents Susan Collins set to play pivotal role in impeachment drama Pro-trade group launches media buy as Trump and Democrats near deal on new NAFTA MORE (N.D.) in a tough spot months before the November midterm elections. 

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“This is where the real conflict is,” one top Democratic strategist concluded. “There isn’t really space for an anti-gun candidate in the party and yet there are senators who have a tough balancing act for sure.”

Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist, added: “The reason for the tension within the party is pretty obvious. Democrats have no choice but to press this issue. With 69 percent in favor of a complete ban, they’re on the right side of public opinion on the issue … For the 2020 Dems, a ban on assault weapons is a no-brainer.” 

No Democrat running for the White House wants to be outflanked from the left on guns.

During the 2016 Democratic primary, for example, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE slammed rival Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.) for not being strong enough on gun control.

“No one wants to be the lightweight when it comes to guns and particularly an assault weapons ban,” the strategist said. “They all want to be seen as the ones who really rushed to the forefront and pushed this issue when it really mattered.” 

All of the prospective 2020 Democratic candidates in the upper chamber — Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (Mass.) Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Warren, Pressley introduce bill to make it a crime for police officers to deny medical care to people in custody Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers MORE (N.Y.) Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook McEnany says Juneteenth is a very ‘meaningful’ day to Trump MORE (Calif.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants Black lawmakers unveil bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (N.J.), Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Democrats demand Republican leaders examine election challenges after Georgia voting chaos Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (Minn.) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyState, city education officials press Congress for more COVID-19 funds The Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump takes victory lap in morning news conference Pelosi demands Trump clarify deployment of unidentified law enforcement in DC MORE (Conn.) are all co-sponsors of Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Democrats demand Republican leaders examine election challenges after Georgia voting chaos GOP votes to give Graham broad subpoena power in Obama-era probe MORE’s (Calif.) legislation to ban assault weapons. Sanders has also said he favors banning assault weapons. 

“These weapons are not for hunting,” he said. “They’re for killing human beings.” 

Support for the ban on assault weapons has grown among Democrats over the last 11 years. In 2007, 67 Democrats supported a ban. That number continued to grow in 2013 with 83 Democrats co-sponsoring legislation. The number grew to 149 in 2015 before settling on 167 co-sponsors this year. 

As Democrats call for assault weapons to be banned, President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE is also showing signs of movement. 

This week, Trump — sitting beside Feinstein — signaled that he might be willing to include parts of her assault weapons legislation as part of a bipartisan deal.

Sitting across from them was Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump administration seeks to use global aid for nuclear projects Shelley Moore Capito wins Senate primary West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice wins GOP gubernatorial primary MORE (W.Va.) the Democrat who refuses to support a ban on assault weapons. (“I don’t know anyone who’s committed a crime with it,” Manchin said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe this week.)

“Joe, are you ready?” a visibly excited Feinstein asked the West Virginia Senator after Trump made his remarks.

Manchin spearheaded aggressive background checks legislation in 2013 in partnership with Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyGOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy NSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general MORE (R-Pa.), but faces a potentially tough reelection race this year in a state where Trump cruised to victory in 2016.

Manchin told Feinstein he was at least willing to consider some of her proposal. 

“Can you do that? Joe, can you do that?” Trump asked. 

But there is still a divide on the issue in the Democratic caucus, one that has lingered since a vote on an assault weapons ban failed 40-60 in the Senate in 2013, a few months after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Sixteen Democrats, including Heitkamp, Manchin and Sens. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetSome realistic solutions for income inequality Democratic senators kneel during moment of silence for George Floyd 21 senators urge Pentagon against military use to curb nationwide protests MORE (Colo.), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSenate confirms Trump’s watchdog for coronavirus funds Montana barrels toward blockbuster Senate fight The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip MORE (Mont.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEx-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden Lobbying world 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents MORE (Ind.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Democratic senators kneel during moment of silence for George Floyd MORE (N.M.) and Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallPark Police asked to defend rationale behind clearing protesters The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden on the cusp of formally grasping the Democratic nomination Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez defeats Valerie Plame in New Mexico primary MORE (N.M.), as well as independent Sen. Angus KingAngus KingSenator suggests law enforcement used ‘excessive force’ in Lafayette Square incident Trump administration could pursue drilling near Florida coast post-election: report Hillicon Valley: Chinese tech groups caught in rising US-China tensions | Senator questions controversial facial recognition group on use during protests | Study finds vulnerabilities in online voting system used by several states MORE (Maine), voted “no.”

Asked about her 2013 vote on Thursday, Heitkamp said she thought the legislation was “overly broad.” 

“It included banning semi-automatics, and I actually don’t think the assault weapons ban would accomplish much,” Heitkamp told The Weekly Standard. 

Democrats acknowledged the awkward divide within the party. But internal pressure aside, Bannon said the 2018 candidates can explain the daylight between their position and their Senate colleagues who may run in 2020. 

“If I were a senator like Heitkamp or Manchin, I’d use this internal fight to show that they’re not being held captive by the national Democratic party. I’d use it as a tool to stake out their own independence.”

“Even though there’s tension with their colleagues, if they’re smart enough they’ll use it to their advantage,” Bannon said. “Both sides could win.”  

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