In his State of the Union address, President Obama reminded his audience in Hartford on Monday night, every member of Congress in attendance stood and cheered when he said that the families of those gunned down in Newtown, Aurora and Tucson deserved a vote on gun violence measures. Three months later, arch-conservative Senate Republicans are threatening a filibuster against gun legislation to be introduced by Democrats on Thursday to avoid going on the record in opposition. "You deserve a vote," said the president to the large crowd that came to the University of Hartford to remember the victims of the Sandy Hook School massacre and demand reform. To reject those reforms would be bad enough, but to deny a vote would be nothing less than cowardice.
Republican leaders regularly pay lip service to following the "will of the people," but they are failing to do so on gun reform and they know it. Polls show 90 percent support for mandatory federal background checks and majority support for other measures, such as a ban on federal assault weapons. The only way for them to avoid going on the record in opposition to the will of the people is to obstruct the voting process, a common technique in the Obama era.
Tuesday, eight Republican senators, including New England's two remaining Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, said they would not support a filibuster. However, with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell aligned with the tea party wing urging a filibuster, that could change. Two Democrats, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Max Baucus of Montana, may also join a filibuster, with Senator Baucus asserting that "I'm just the employee, I'm the hired hand here." After all his years in Congress, Mr. Baucus is confused about his role. He is supposed to lead, not put his finger in the air to determine how the prevailing winds are blowing in Montana. He should, as the president said Monday, "set politics aside, and just do what's right."
Speaking on "Face the Nation" Sunday, Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said the purpose of the Senate is to debate and vote, and he would not back a filibuster. "What are we afraid of?" asked the senator. Obviously, some of his colleagues are afraid of both going on the record and of angering their NRA masters. Senator McCain will ultimately disappoint on efforts to address America's unique brand of gun sickness, but it can't be said that the former Vietnam POW is afraid.