They’re bad on Keystone Pipeline, and they’re bad on guns – meet the worst Senate Democrats

In the last few days there were a number of gun votes in the Senate, NRA votes if you will, all of which failed — several of them thanks to the Harry Reid Memorial Filibuster Reform, which left the Republican minority in charge of the Senate. The underlying guns bill is S. 649, a reasonably strong bill on background checks for gun purchasers. Unless something changes, it’s expected to fail if or when it sees the floor.

The real action was around the amendments to that bill, which were voted on April 17. You can see them all here (look for April 17 votes on amendments to S. 649). Seven amendments were voted in all. Of those, I want to focus on four:

Manchin amendment (No. 715) — This is actually a substitute for the original background check bill, a replacement. Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Pat Toomey tried to cobble together a softer background bill to attract more votes. It “failed” 54-46, ’cause you know, 60 votes (thanks, Mr. Reid).

Feinstein amendment (No. 711) — This is the assault weapons ban. It failed badly, 40-60.

Lautenberg amendment (No. 714) — This is a ban on extra-large clips. It failed 46-54.

Cornyn amendment (No. 719) — This is an NRA-friendly amendment that would require gun-control states to honor the gun “rights” of citizens of non-gun-control states when they travel. It “failed” 57-43.

The list of who-voted-how in each case is instructive, and I’ve done some compilation (see below). In general, a Yes vote on Manchin, Feinstein or Lautenberg was scored +1, and a No vote was scored –1. Conversely, a Yes vote on Cornyn was scored –1, while a No vote was scored +1.

Finally, I added the March 23 Keystone pipeline test vote to the list of four votes above. The Keystone vote was advisory, but it provides a way to see who will vote Yes or No when an actual bill comes to the floor. On that vote, a No to Keystone was scored +1, and a Yes to Keystone was scored –1. (My write-up of that vote — my first Climate Criminals piece of the new year — is here.)

Why are we looking at NRA Democratic senators?

We all care about stopping gun violence — at least those of us who frequent La Maison chez nous. That’s reason enough to care about who on the Dem side did us in. But I’m looking beyond that to the whole Obama legacy agenda. Gun rights — your right not to get shot up by guns — is not only a big deal in itself, it’s a canary in the Obama legacy coal mine.

With all the public furor over Sandy Hook, with the president making bully-pulpit speeches, with Obama-friendly MSNBC going all-in to push the passage of the S. 649 background checks bill, or at least the Manchin-Toomey substitute — with all that wind at our progressive backs — we still couldn’t get a win out of the Senate. The watered-down Manchin compromise fell six votes short of 60.

We have to fix that if we’re going to get the wins we need next. Three points:

NRA post- Sandy Hook press conference interrupted by protesters (video)1. This is just the first of four very important Senate battles, the others being benefit cuts (a death-to-your-lifestyle vote), Keystone Sludgepipe (a death-to-human-civilization vote), and the TPP trade pact (a NAFTA-on-steroids vote). In fact, you could accurately call TPP a death-to-national-sovereignty vote as well. Lots of death votes coming.

2. On the Keystone pipeline vote in particular, we’ll have huge outside-game help as well, just like we did this time with guns. Expect massive petition drives and civil disobedience, similar to what caused Obama to back down the last time. Obama will push back hard — so we won’t have the Obama-friendly MSNBC hosts — but we’ll have some of them, in particular Chris Hayes, who said this on air a while back:

“The only hope on climate change is civil disobedience.”

I don’t expect him to change his mind or his coverage.

3. These gun votes tell us who are the worst Dem senators — the worst NRA senators —so we can focus on them hard. In my opinion, we need to warn them now that some votes are important enough to cost them their jobs, Dem-control of the Senate or not.

With that in mind, who are our worst Dem senators, and what should we do about them?

The worst Dem senators on Keystone Pipeline and NRA votes

If I could personally and magically force these men and women to take up a new line of work, I would. These are the NRA Dems who voted worst on a tally of all five votes listed above (four guns votes and one Keystone vote):

Your Democratic pro-NRA, pro-Keystone senators
The worst of the worst

Score Last Name First Name State Party Phone Class
-5 Baucus Max MT D (202) 224-2651 2
-5 Begich Mark AK D (202) 224-3004 2
-5 Heitkamp Heidi ND D (202) 224-2043 1
-5 Pryor Mark AR D (202) 224-2353 2
-3 Donnelly Joe IN D (202) 224-4814 1
-3 Manchin Joe WV D (202) 224-3954 1
-3 Tester Jon MT D (202) 224-2644 1
-3 Hagan Kay NC D (202) 224-6342 2
-3 Landrieu Mary LA D (202) 224-5824 2
-3 Warner Mark VA D (202) 224-2023 2

(By the way, of the two Independent senators, Sanders did very well, scoring +5, but Angus King failed us on the Feinstein amendment. Solid progressive Rep. Chellie Pingree appeared to step aside to clear that Senate seat for King in 2012; I hope that wasn’t a mistake.)

As noted, a –5 means five bad votes out of five. A –3 means just one good vote out of five — in all six cases, a good vote on the watered-down Manchin compromise bill, and on only that. Begich and Pryor also voted No to ending debate on the underlying background checks bill, and Pryor screwed us on the filibuster. Note that those in Senate Class 2 are up for re-election in 2014, about which they may care.

And everyone on that list is a Keystone climate criminal, a Yes on the Keystone finger-in-the-wind vote. Dangerous people.

The only plus among any of the –5 people is Begich, who has been very helpful on benefit cuts. Other than that, they can all go away for all I care (including Heitkamp, who has sometimes drawn special attention for ill deeds).

“But what about losing Democratic control of the Senate?” I hear you ask. Here’s where I part company with some of my brothers and sisters on the left. As I wrote earlier:

I kind of don’t care about losing the Senate if we manage to really nail some of these folks. After all, the alternative [on Keystone] is maybe humans become hunter-gatherers again. Want to know how hunter-gatherers live? Look at the homeless in your own city. They’re hunter-gatherers; the smell is part of the lifestyle, always was.

Hmm; risk losing the Senate, or risk becoming hunter-gatherers again. I know which risk I would take.

And I would take that risk any day of the week, if the alternative to losing the Senate is returning most of our species to prehistoric life. Besides, if there are no consequences for a bad vote, we have no negotiating position at all. (For a full list of Keystone climate criminals in the Senate, go here.)

If there are no consequences, there are no incentives

Gabby Giffords said it best in her New York Times editorial railing against these recent NRA guns votes (from our coverage; my emphasis):

I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated. I am asking for mothers to stop these lawmakers at the grocery store and tell them: You’ve lost my vote. I am asking activists to unsubscribe from these senators’ e-mail lists and to stop giving them money. I’m asking citizens to go to their offices and say: You’ve disappointed me, and there will be consequences.

As you can see from what I said above, I agree with Giffords. If there are no consequences for a very bad vote — after that vote is cast — then we have surrendered all of our leverage. If there are no consequences, there are no incentives. Giffords understands this and calls for consequences. So do I.

What to do?

My strong suggestion is to re-incentivize these senators. As of this writing, Harry Reid has pulled the underlying guns bill, S. 649. Is he planning to re-introduce it? I don’t know. I do know that if the Manchin compromise didn’t pass 60 votes, the stronger bill can’t pass without some kind of game-change.

What should we do? If I were a hard-core anti–gun violence activist, a really committed individual on this issue, I would pick all three NRA senators from the above list who face the voters in 2014 …

Max Baucus (D-MT)
Mark Begich (D-AK)
Mark Pryor (D-AR)

… and make them the face of gun violence from now until the 2014 election is over. Do it early and often, hard and strong. Hang this vote around their necks and hurt their re-election chances if you can. Could that spark a primary challenge? Unlikely, but that’s not my province. Could that get a Republican elected? Maybe. Do I care? No; not on this issue, not on Keystone, not on Catfood lifestyles, not on TPP. That’s my list. If these Democrats will do that to this country, they’re not protected.

If there are no consequences, there are no incentives. If gun rights activists won’t go head to head on a really bad vote, one they really care about, they should find new work or a different issue, ’cause otherwise I see losing battles from here till the sun goes dark.

Besides, right-wing Dem senators are arguing that getting re-elected requires bending to the NRA. Let’s show them we can play that game too, and on exactly the same ground. Let’s show them they got it exactly backwards — that bending to the NRA can cost you.

For good measure, I’d also pick three 2014 NRA Republican senators and do the same, make them the face of gun violence. Good choices:

Mitch (“Miss“) McConnell (R-KY)
Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)

My understanding is that McConnell is especially evil on this issue and could be vulnerable, Graham as well, and Chambliss is … well, he’s the guy who trashed wheelchair-bound war-hero Max Cleland in true Karl Rovean fashion. He deserves to be picketed at home and at the office every time a child dies by gunfire in Georgia. [Update: Forgot he’s retiring. Still, that seat is going to be a target. Stay tuned.]

Anything else anyone else wants to do the Dems above, feel absolutely free. Heitkamp, for example, just got elected, but she’s easily one of the worst. Go for her too if you’re so inclined.

(UPDATE: I’ve been speaking with gun activists who are on board with this. I’ll have more as things evolve, but a list of targets is being developed. On the R side, four possibles, my three plus one other. On the D side, four races plus someone who’s really bad but not running, again, my three plus one, plus a seat to defend.)

Am I switching to guns as an issue?

A final note, to emphasize why I’m doing this. I’m not “switching” to anything; it’s all of a piece. The senators who are the worst on guns are the worst on everything we care about. These are the Keystone senators as well, and except for Begich, they’re the Catfood senators too. They will also be the TPP senators — the ones who will surrender national sovereignty for campaign cash and lobbyist shoe leather. And no, that’s not an exaggeration; TPP obsoletes national sovereignty.

Battle of Cannae_SMALLI want to find issues where the wind is at our backs and find ways take them on, not battle by battle, but as part of that war. I’d like to hit the same bad Dem senators again and again and again. A winning progressive coalition should let these people know — early, often, continually, forcefully — that we will take their jobs unless they vote in the real national interest on the most critical issues. The guns issue — aside from its own importance — is perfectly made to be the first salvo, the first battlefield.

Winning on gun safety would mean a lot, would save lives. So if progressive pressure continues and S. 649 is re-introduced, we have a second bite, a second shot. Great.

But I’d like a pitched battle over gun safety to be the gateway drug for progressives, a preparation for other pitched battles to come. Benefits cuts in some form could still see the floor of the House and Senate. The Keystone pipeline will absolutely get a vote, and needs to be stopped. So will TPP. Obama wants both very badly, as do David Koch and Robert Rubin.

In my own dreams, we will let these senators know that progressives won’t back down, will take prisoners even if it costs them the Senate, will take our own rhetoric seriously.

After all, if Democratic senators want to keep the Senate, they have a wonderful way to get our help — cast better votes.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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