Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) shelved his party’s gun bill Thursday after a stinging defeat the day before as Democrats, the White House, and gun control advocates vowed to keep fighting.
“This debate is not over,” Reid said on the floor of the Senate Thursday afternoon after he pulled the gun bill. “I’ve spoken with the president. He and I agree that the best way to keep working towards passing a background check bill is to hit a pause and freeze the background check bill where it is.”
Reid used a procedural option to withdraw the bill while retaining the option to reintroduce it at a later date.
An amendment expanding background checks on firearm sales failed by a vote of 54 to 46 on Wednesday, with four Democrats voting against it. Bills banning high-capacity magazines and so-called “assault weapons” also failed.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D., Calif.) assault weapons ban was the least popular gun bill considered Wednesday, garnering just 40 votes. A bill expanding privacy protections for gun owners passed with 67 votes in favor.
President Barack Obama and gun control advocates were furious at the results. The Huffington Post reported that, shortly before he gave an address castigating senators, he told former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D., Ariz.) and family members of those killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that this would not be the last push for gun control.
Organizing for Action, a group closely tied to Obama, announced it would target the senators who voted against the background checks bill.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun-control group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), also said it is prepared to play the long game.
“We’ll get through this day, take down the bill, and get senators prepared for the fact that they are going to be dealing with this issue everyday for the foreseeable future until they resolve it in the way the public wants,” MAIG director Mark Glaze told BuzzFeed.
Republicans are not resting on their laurels.
“There are no permanent victories in Washington,” one Senate GOP aide told the Washington Free Beacon. “We obviously want to stay vigilant”
And despite strong attacks from the left, conservative senators have no plans of backing down.
Republicans pushed for an alternative bill that focused on increased prosecution of gun crimes and improving the FBI’s criminal background check system, a strategy they will stick with going forward.
“I agree with the president that this debate is not over,” Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) said in a statement.
“My hope is that we can now discuss the problems that lead to these violent acts and propose solutions that actually address them. We can do more to identify and help individuals with mental health issues and enforce existing laws that keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals. We must also begin a serious dialogue about the culture of violence that undermines the moral fabric of our society.”
“Our message to our members is, stay strong,” said another GOP aide from the conservative wing of the Senate. “We know we’re right on the policy. We know we’re right on the message. We know we can talk about it without sounding callous.”
A group of GOP senators, lead by Sens. Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (Ky.), and Ted Cruz (Texas), threatened to filibuster a “motion to proceed” on the gun bill. They eventually backed down, and the Senate proceeded on the bill by a 68-31 vote.
The filibuster threat drew sharp criticism, but the aide said initial vote was a “wake up call” for many Second Amendment supporters and constituents. It helped that the National Rifle Association decided to score the vote on the motion to proceed, an unusual move for the group.
“I don’t think we wouldn’t have gotten folks like [Sen. Kelly] Ayotte (R., N.H.) if we didn’t have that first vote,” the aide said.
“It’s important for conservatives to really use the procedural means at hand to try and squelch these Democrat gun-control bills,” another GOP aide said. “What Cruz, Paul, and Lee did is really crucial to that.”
Reid will have to corral Democrats from red states if he wants to pass any gun-control legislation, such as Sen. Max Baucus (Mont.), one of four Democrats to vote against the background check bill.
Asked by reporters Wednesday to explain his vote, Baucus said one word: “Montana.”