Updated Mar 13, 2018 - Politics & Policy

Guns and immigration probably aren't going away on the Hill

Sens. John Cornyn and Mitch McConnell

Congress will likely revisit guns and immigration. Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images

There's little chance that gun or immigration legislation will become a part of a must-pass spending bill later this month, but that doesn't mean Congress won't return to the issues later this year — even with midterm elections looming.

Why this matters: That Republicans want to return to these hot-button issues in an election year, particularly gun legislation, reflects recognition of a shift in public opinion. There's no plan in place, but this time some members of both parties genuinely want to find solutions to — or at the very least seriously debate — these issues.

Yes, but: It doesn't hurt that dragging out the culture wars could be taxing on red-state Democrats up for re-election in the Senate.

Where things stand: Immigration and gun safety legislation followed a similar trajectory. There was a strong desire among both parties to act, but partisan divisions over what exactly to do killed the effort.

  • Immigration has faded as an issue as the termination of the Obama-era program protecting Dreamers has been delayed by courts. Still, many members would rather reach a deal sooner rather than later to give immigrants who came to the U.S. as children certainty about their future.
  • The gun debate never truly got started following the Parkland school shooting last month. While there's huge bipartisan support for a bill strengthening the background check system, sponsored by Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, Democrats are pushing for more.
  • There is still no deal on how to move forward on either issue.

That being said, members and staff from both parties say that, despite the conventional wisdom that controversial issues should be avoided in election years, they want to get something on these issues accomplished.

  • “I think we will get to guns and immigration. The only question is when," said Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
  • "Both issues are out there, they’re sort of under the surface, but they’re still very much real. We need to deal with them," Republican Sen. John Kennedy told me.
  • Minority Whip Dick Durbin said that while he doesn't "have any indication" that guns and immigration will be dealt with in the spending bill, he chuckled when I asked if it was the last chance to deal with those politically charged issues: “You can’t give up on the year in March!”

Reality check: Just because there's a genuine desire to get something done doesn't mean Congress will be able to actually agree on anything.

Between the lines: There's some politics at work here too.

  • Keeping the issues of guns and immigration alive in the Senate could work in Republicans' favor, despite being issues that are unpopular with their base. Their vulnerable members are from purple states, while these issues could make trouble for red-state Democrats.
  • Even more counter-intuitively, House Republicans have an incentive to do something on guns, as long as it's after primary filing deadlines pass: Some of their most vulnerable members are from swing districts with suburban voters fed up with gun violence.
  • "House trying to help moderates. Senate trying to defeat them," a senior House aide texted me.
Go deeper