Lawmakers and the families of Newtown victims held a midday press conference on Capitol Hill Thursday—the day before the six-month anniversary of the Newtown shooting—part of a renewed, day-long effort to revive the Senate's failed gun background check legislation. Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat and key advocate for the victims during the gun debate, vowed to defeat the "schoolyard bullies" of the National Rifle Association in that effort, but he was less certain about whether to inject gun control into the ongoing immigration reform debate.
Blumenthal has proposed two gun-related amendments to the immigration bill being considered in the Senate. One would deny immigrants on visa waivers from buying guns; the other would require the US attorney general to alert the Department of Homeland Security when undocumented immigrants attempt to buy guns or when non-citizens attempt mass gun purchases. When the Senate judiciary committee considered the immigration bill, Blumenthal chose not to push for a vote the gun amendments. But he has considered filing them now that the immigration bill is on the Senate floor. Doing so would trigger a major fight, with NRAish senators likely to go ballistic.
"I'm not going to doom or cripple immigration reform efforts to raise those amendments," Blumenthal told Mother Jones after Thursday's conference, echoing similar comments he made earlier this week. But, he added, "The issue of gun violence belongs in the debate." In other words, Blumenthal won't doom immigration reform—but he might.
Last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called Blumenthal's amendments "problematic" because they would sidetrack progress on immigration reform with a gun debate. Democrats, unwilling to let immigration talks implode over controversial amendments, are also eyeing the amendments with caution.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who controls the amendment process, is in discussions with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the minority leader, to determine which measures will get a vote. McConnell told Mother Jones Thursday that there is "nothing new" yet on which amendments will get floor time. Blumenthal said he is still discussing his amendments with Senate leadership and other colleagues to determine if they would be receptive.
At the press conference, Democrats claimed a renewed fight over background checks is possible. Reid said that he would reintroduce a background check bill in the Senate once he secures 60 votes in order to overcome a filibuster, claiming he has made progress with a couple Republicans. "The writing is on the wall," Reid said. "Background checks will pass the United States Senate, it's just a matter of time."