68-31: Senate Proceeds to Debate on Gun Bill, With 16 Republican "Ayes"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 11 2013 11:52 AM

68-31: Senate Proceeds to Debate on Gun Bill, With 16 Republican "Ayes"

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Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) (L) and Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-CT) speak to the media after meeting with Newtown families on Capitol Hill, April 9, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

How confident were Democrats about today's cloture vote on the gun bill? The vote was scheduled for 11 a.m. At 10:30 a.m., New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy accompanied Newtown family members and gun control activists to the Mansfield Room, right outside the Senate floor, to talk about the coming victory.

"Love won this week," said Murphy. "We passed two tests."

But they hadn't, yet. As Murphy and Blumenthal read the names of Newtown victims, and as photographers trained their lenses on a weeping Jillian Soto, senators were slowly making their way to the Capitol for the vote. Democrats just knew that they had the vote locked down. Only two Democrats—Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor and Alaska Sen. Mark Begich—voted against cloture. Sixteen Republicans, ranging from compromise co-author Pat Toomey to new libertarian Jeff Flake, voted for cloture, allowing the bill to come to the floor to be amended. As the Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe pointed out, 21 of the "aye" votes came from senators whose NRA ratings were A- or higher.

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What to make of that? Obviously, a conservative threat to filibuster the motion to proceed to any bill went over like a stinkbomb. The NRA has promised to key-vote the next cloture motion, on final passage. But 16 Republicans preferred not to read headlines about their party "refusing even to debate a gun bill." As soon as the vote was done, Sen. Lindsey Graham issued a statement promising that "the gun control legislation can still be filibustered after today in the United States Senate." Toomey's confident that he can amend the bill, basically replacing it with the compromise he hammered out with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, then vote for it. Some of the "ayes" came from Republicans who can claim that the final bill, whatever it is, must be filibustered.

When the vote was done, I noticed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz watching Majority Leader Harry Reid explain how the process would work—hoping that "a few senators don't spoil everything" by filibustering every amendment. Cruz sat at his desk, then got up, then ... left the room.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.