Friday, December 2, 2022

Inside Mitch McConnell’s decades-long effort to block gun control


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Mitch McConnell was simply ending up his first time period because the junior senator from Kentucky when a mass capturing rocked his hometown of Louisville.

On Sept. 14, 1989, a disgruntled worker entered the Standard Gravure printing plant in downtown Louisville and, armed with an AK-47 and different weapons, killed eight and wounded 12 others earlier than taking his personal life — in what stays the deadliest mass capturing within the state’s historical past.

At the time, mass shootings had not but develop into the staple of American life that they’re now, and McConnell mentioned he was “deeply disturbed,” declaring, “We must take action to stop such vicious crimes.”

But he additionally added: “We need to be careful about legislating in the middle of a crisis.” And within the days and weeks after, he didn’t be part of others in calling for a ban on assault weapons just like the AK-47 utilized by the shooter.

The Standard Gravure massacre supplied an early glimpse of how McConnell — now the Republican Senate minority chief — would deal with mass shootings and their aftermath over the subsequent three many years, constantly working to delay, impede or stop most main gun-control laws from passing Congress.

McConnell would go on to observe an analogous playbook time and time once more throughout his seven phrases in Congress, providing imprecise guarantees of motion, typically with none specifics, solely to be adopted by no motion or incremental measures that prevented new gun laws. As a Republican chief, he additionally helped dissuade his convention — as after the 2012 mass capturing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — from supporting gun laws and, as majority chief, refused to convey up important gun-control measures for a vote.

Now, the newest devastating and high-profile mass shootings — a massacre Tuesday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tex., that left 19 college students and two lecturers useless, simply 10 days after a racist slaughter at Buffalo supermarket that killed 10 — have thrust Congress again right into a fiery debate over what, if something, lawmakers can do to curb gun violence.

On Thursday, McConnell told CNN that he had inspired Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) to attain out to Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) — who made gun control a private mission after Sandy Hook — to start discussing what bipartisan measures could be doable.

But many Democrats and anti-gun advocates stay skeptical, predicting that McConnell and his fellow Republicans are poised to impede any consequential gun-violence-prevention payments but once more.

“If there’s any one individual in the United States to blame for our inability to put things in place to prevent gun violence, it’s Mitch McConnell,” mentioned Peter Ambler, the manager director of Giffords, a bunch devoted to preventing gun violence. “McConnell understands he’s hostage to that extreme base that just doesn’t tolerate any departure from any of their views.”

Many Republicans say that McConnell is much less a singular impediment than a savvy chief who is ready to his learn his convention and make choices that assist his senators and shield them politically. “McConnell knows where his members stand and makes the tough calls to protect their interests,” a senior Republican aide mentioned, explaining McConnell’s total motivations in addressing gun violence and gun laws.

McConnell declined to remark.

In 1990, the 12 months after the Standard Gravure capturing, McConnell was up for reelection and located himself in an in depth race with Democrat Harvey Sloane, then the Jefferson County choose govt and a former Louisville mayor, who had known as for banning assault weapons.

In 2013, following Sandy Hook, Sloane recounted in Louisville’s Courier-Journal newspaper that as his race with McConnell tightened within the closing stretch, McConnell and the National Rifle Association “blistered the state falsely as to how this ban would eventually take away ‘your hunting gun and the hand pistol you need for personal protection.’ ”

McConnell defeated Sloane by 5 proportion factors and, in his second time period within the Senate, went on to vote towards each the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1993 and the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994.

“Mitch is really Machiavellian,” Sloane mentioned in an interview with The Washington Post final week. “He’s single-handedly held up any kind of gun legislation that’s meaningful.”

‘It didn’t change a factor’

In September 2019, a bunch of gun-control advocates — together with Kris Brown, the president of Brady, a gun violence prevention group; Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights icon; and Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), who misplaced her 17-year-old son in a 2012 capturing — gathered on the West Lawn of the Capitol for a rally in favor of harder background checks.

After the rally, some within the group — which additionally included some McConnell constituents — determined to make their approach to the then-majority chief’s workplace for what Lewis might need known as “good trouble.”

“So we walked over, John Lewis kind of leading us, talking about the importance of peaceful resistance,” Brown recalled, including that Lewis requested if somebody ought to get Depends — a model of grownup diapers — as a result of the group could be there for some time.

“His staffers had no idea what to do with us,” Brown mentioned. “McConnell didn’t have the human decency to sit down with John Lewis.”

Instead, a McConnell staffer ushered the group into a conference room and met with them for over an hour. Brown mentioned that the staffer clearly appeared moved by Lewis, telling him that she held him in excessive esteem, and by the victims of gun violence, who recounted their tales one after one other.

“She was moved to tears, but it didn’t change a thing,” Brown mentioned, saying the staffer basically advised the group “that it was just the wrong time to bring this bill forward.”

Doug Andres, a McConnell spokesman, mentioned McConnell had been unable to meet with the group on the time as a result of it was a shock go to and he already had constituent conferences deliberate. He mentioned the staffer merely defined to the group that then-President Donald Trump was unlikely to signal the invoice they had been pitching, and McConnell was not going to advocate for laws he knew would fail.

For McConnell, nonetheless, the time has not often appeared proper.

Almost instantly after Sandy Hook, then-President Barack Obama tasked then-Vice President Joe Biden with placing collectively a strong coverage response. McConnell — then the Senate minority chief — downplayed the effort.

Asked about gun-control points on ABC’s “This Week” in January 2013 — lower than month after Sandy Hook — McConnell mentioned he was ready to see Biden’s proposal however didn’t plan to prioritize it over different points like “spending and debt” within the coming months.

Then, later that month — after Obama signed 23 govt orders on weapons in response to the tragedy that left 20 kindergartners useless — McConnell recorded a robocall and despatched it out to gun house owners in his state.

The Senate Republican chief has spent his profession working to delay, impede or stop most main firearms restrictions from being authorised by Congress. (Video: Joy Yi/The Washington Post, Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP/The Washington Post)

“President Obama and his team are doing everything in their power to restrict your constitutional right to keep and bear arms,” McConnell mentioned within the recording. “Their efforts to restrict your rights, invading your personal privacy and overstepping their bounds with executive orders, is just plain wrong.”

McConnell additionally refused a gathering with the Sandy Hook households, in accordance to somebody acquainted with the request, who spoke on the situation of anonymity to reveal particulars. But finally, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) negotiated a modest bipartisan background checks invoice, often called Manchin-Toomey.

At the time, McConnell was nonetheless adjusting to the rise of the hard-right tea social gathering motion within the Republican base; within the 2010 Republican Senate major in Kentucky, Rand Paul vanquished Trey Grayson, McConnell’s handpicked candidate, by using the tea social gathering wave in what some additionally considered as a stinging rebuke of McConnell. And by 2013, McConnell was already getting ready for his 2014 reelection bid.

When Manchin-Toomey lastly got here to the Senate flooring for a vote in April 2013, McConnell pushed his convention to oppose the invoice, which in the end failed 54 to 46, falling in need of the 60 votes wanted for passage.

“McConnell whipped hard against it. McConnell is obsessed with protecting his right flank,” mentioned Adam Jentleson, who on the time labored for then-Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), explaining why McConnell helped tank the background examine invoice. “It’s why he’s been able to survive as leader for so long.”

Jesse Benton — a conservative activist who managed Paul’s 2010 Senate marketing campaign and who McConnell enlisted to handle his 2014 one — mentioned that McConnell on the time “said something to me like, ‘I hope you know I’m not planning on supporting any of this crap.’ ”

“He’s not a firebrand like some of the [pro-gun] activists want, but he makes it clear to his team that he is a Second Amendment believer,” Benton mentioned. “He respects the legislative process and the fact that there are differing opinions in his own caucus, but he works it in his own way, as only he can.”

McConnell was, at different instances, keen to entertain the thought of some laws on weapons, partly as a approach of releasing strain from members of his caucus who wished to present some legislative motion after mass shootings.

But that strategy has additionally earned him the ire of some Second Amendment advocates, a few of whom ran advertisements towards him throughout his 2014 major.

“When the going gets tough, Mitch McConnell has always been absent from the fight,” mentioned Dudley Brown, the president of the National Association for Gun Rights, a hard-line various to the NRA. “He has never stood up when it was really tough.”

‘An obstacle to taking any action’

For McConnell, 2018 opened with a mass capturing at Marshall County High School close to Benton, Ky., the place a 15-year-old scholar killed two and injured greater than a dozen others that January. The following month, one other college capturing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., left 17 useless and drew yet one more nationwide outcry for stronger gun measures.

At the time, Trump supplied messaging whiplash. In a gathering with Democratic and Republican lawmakers two weeks after Parkland, he known as for “comprehensive” gun laws and chided Republicans for being “petrified” of the NRA. But the subsequent day, he hosted an NRA lobbyist within the Oval Office, declared the assembly “great” on Twitter and appeared to lose curiosity in engaged on gun laws.

Still, a McConnell aide mentioned, the mix of the Florida and Kentucky college shootings prompted McConnell, by then the Senate majority chief, to assist go two modest payments on background checks (the Fix NICS Act) and college security (the Stop School Violence Act).

The Fix NICS Act helped enhance the prison background checks system to make background checks extra thorough and correct, and the stopping college violence measure approved further funding for bettering college safety and early intervention and college violence prevention packages.

Another huge push for gun laws got here in the summertime of 2019, following back-to-back shootings on Aug. 3 and 4 at a Walmart Supercenter in majority-Hispanic El Paso and in a nightlife hall in Dayton, Ohio, which left a mixed 23 individuals useless and dozens extra injured.

The Democratic blowback was fierce and directed squarely at McConnell — who was once more campaigning for reelection — for the reason that House had already handed a background examine invoice.

“I hope that Sen. McConnell would bring the Senate back tomorrow and pass the background check bill and send it to the president,” Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown mentioned after the shootings.

The similar day, Shannon Watts of Moms Demand Action, a gun violence prevention group, declared, “We need Mitch McConnell to allow a vote.”

The Twitter account of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) retweeted each statements, and a number of other days later, Pelosi wrote a public letter to Trump asking him to name on McConnell — whom she described as “an obstacle to taking any action” — to name the Senate again into session.

By the evening of Aug. 4, protesters had gathered exterior McConnell’s Kentucky house with profane chants. Days later, dozens gathered outside his Louisville office.

That Thursday, Aug. 8, McConnell went on Louisville’s WHAS-AM radio to say he had spoken with Trump and was prepared to take motion. The president, he mentioned, was “anxious to get an outcome, and so am I.”

“What we can’t do is fail to pass something,” McConnell mentioned. “What I want to see here is an outcome.”

He added that background checks — which he mentioned had “a lot of support” publicly — and pink flag measures would in all probability lead the dialogue.

But a particular session was by no means known as.

The week earlier than returning to Washington, McConnell did an interview with Hugh Hewitt on Sept. 3 that laid out a special benchmark, deferring to Trump: “I said several weeks ago that if the president took a position on a bill so that we knew we would actually be making a law and not just having serial votes, I’d be happy to put it on the floor.”

By the time McConnell introduced the Senate again in session, his focus had shifted. In his first remarks on the Senate flooring, McConnell made no point out of the gun subject. Just over every week later, The Post reported on a whistleblower complaint about Trump’s communications with a overseas chief, finally main to Trump’s first impeachment for his efforts to withhold navy help to Ukraine — drawing Trump’s consideration away from weapons.

This previous Wednesday, the day after the devastating Uvalde elementary college capturing, McConnell — now the Senate minority chief once more — took to the Senate flooring to declare himself and the nation “sickened and outraged by the senseless evil” that left not less than 19 college students and two lecturers “murdered for no apparent reason at all.”

He didn’t point out weapons or any doable laws, as an alternative specializing in the “innocent young lives” that had been prematurely extinguished.

“Words simply fail,” McConnell mentioned.

On Thursday, nonetheless, McConnell tasked Cornyn with negotiating with Democrats.

“Maybe this will provide some impetus” for compromise, Cornyn advised reporters on the Capitol on Thursday. “This is horrible. Hard to imagine anything that could be worse than parents worrying about the safety of their kids going to school.”

But most Republicans signaled in latest days that main laws stays unlikely.

“There are no right words to describe the heartbreaking and horrific tragedy that happened at Robb Elementary School,” mentioned Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), earlier than including later: “We must be thoughtful about how we discuss and handle school safety and mental health issues. Federal changes should not be made in haste, and there’s still many details we do not know as the investigation continues.”

After a vigil for the Uvalde victims, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) stormed away from an interview when a British reporter requested him why mass shootings occur “only in America.” Cruz accused the reporter of getting a “political agenda.”

Cruz additionally dismissed Democratic gun violence prevention proposals, saying that none of them would have stopped the Uvalde capturing, and later recommended laws to “harden schools” — resembling having just one usable door.

On Friday, Trump — nonetheless the de facto chief of the Republican Party — joined different Republican officers in delivering a defiant response to the Uvalde bloodbath at an NRA annual assembly in Houston, arguing that new gun restrictions had been pointless.

Support for stricter gun legal guidelines has elevated after mass shootings at colleges. In March 2018, shortly after the Parkland capturing, 67 % mentioned in a Gallup Poll that legal guidelines needs to be extra strict — a rise from 60 % who mentioned the identical in October 2017. Similarly, assist for stricter legal guidelines jumped from 43 % to 58 % after the Sandy Hook capturing.

In distinction to assist for gun restrictions on the whole, assist for increasing background checks has stayed very excessive over time. A Pew Research Center poll final 12 months discovered 81 % of Americans supported making non-public gun gross sales and gross sales at gun reveals topic to background checks, together with 70 % of Republicans and 92 % of Democrats. A 63 % majority supported a ban on assault-style weapons, together with 83 % of Democrats and fewer than half as many Republicans (37 %).

But many gun-control advocates and Democrats stay skeptical that Republicans are ready to change their strategy. Matt Bennett — a co-founder of Third Way, a Democratic assume tank — mentioned polarized politics prevents the handful of Republicans who could privately assist some gun security legal guidelines to achieve this publicly.

“The ones who believe in their hearts that they should do something — and who knows how many there truly are — don’t want to do it, because they don’t want to get crosswise with the base,” Bennett mentioned.

John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown for Gun Safety, latched onto McConnell’s declaration on the Senate flooring that “words simply fail.”

He mentioned he agrees utterly.

“I don’t want to mince words. The Republican senators are what is costing American lives. And McConnell is the head of the Republican Senate,” Feinblatt mentioned. “I am encouraged that McConnell gave the green light to Cornyn. That is what I would call step one.”

“But,” he added, “There is no question about it: Inaction is not an option.”

Emily Guskin, Colby Itkowitz, Alice Crites and Laura Meckler contributed to this report.

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