May 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Why this time could be different

Robb Elementary School memorial
A makeshift memorial in front of Robb Elementary School. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Nihilism about the Senate's ability to do anything after yet another horrific mass shooting — this one taking the lives of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas — permeated social media and the halls of Congress on Wednesday.

The big picture: Most lawmakers, even Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), remain highly skeptical that this time will be the time lawmakers strike a compromise. But there are at least five reasons to believe the dam may finally be ready to break.

1. The majority of Americans support background checks.

  • Polls consistently show most Americans believe current gun laws aren't strong enough, with upward of 90% of voters favoring universal background checks.
  • Most recently, 59% of registered voters said it's important for lawmakers to pass stricter gun legislation, according to a Morning Consult/Politico poll taken just days before Tuesday's shooting.

2. The National Rifle Association is weakened.

3. Children were murdered. Again.

  • Lawmakers and those on Capitol Hill were visibly emotional on Wednesday when discussing the shooting.
  • All shootings are horrific, senseless tragedies, but there's something about the massacre of helpless 9- and 10-year-old children that makes the issue feel even more personal — and urgent.
  • The tragedy at Robb Elementary School is the worst school shooting since the Sandy Hook massacre 10 years ago, which spurred a newfound fervor for Congress to act. While those efforts ultimately failed, the parallels are not lost on members.

4. It happened in Republicans' backyard.

  • Some Democrats are hoping Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) will be a leader on this issue — and potentially even the point person for bipartisan talks — given the shooting happened in his home state.
  • Cornyn, an influential member of leadership who will likely run to replace Mitch McConnell as GOP leader one day, has shown compassion and willingness to work with Democrats on similar issues before.
  • "He's from Texas. A [former state district] judge. Has been involved in the background check, in trying to make the system work better," Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told reporters.
  • "He would be enormously influential if he were to point the way toward a solution," Kaine added.
  • Cornyn flew to Uvalde on Wednesday morning, along with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

5. Key bipartisan players are talking again.

  • Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) spoke with both Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is interested in "red flag" laws, and retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who has been at the center of a bipartisan effort with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to expand background checks.
  • Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who took the rare step of addressing reporters in the Capitol on Wednesday, said she plans to renew negotiations with her colleagues in both parties.
  • Republicans — including Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) — signaled openness to potential background check or federal red-flag bills.

The bottom line: For all the justified pessimism stemming from past failures to act, all that matters in the Senate right now is counting to 10.

  • Wrangling 10 Senate Republicans to overcome the filibuster is no small feat and something Democrats have consistently struggled with for the past year and a half.
  • But Schumer has made his path forward clear and is willing to give senators breathing room one more time to try to find some sort of bipartisan compromise that can garner the necessary 60 votes to bypass the filibuster.
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