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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32 Responses to “They’re bad on Keystone Pipeline, and they’re bad on guns – meet the worst Senate Democrats”

  1. Marc Remillard says:

    PLEASE target those pro-Constitution democRATS. Replace them with leftists. That will GUARANTEE a four seat pick-up by the GOP.

  2. karmanot says:

    She’s has been generally good on gay issues,. We enjoyed her attention back in the plague days when she went to bat for us, but overall, over the years lost my support , because of her neo-liberal corporate and war mongering compromises.

  3. karmanot says:

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. ronbo says:

    Although Pelosi is as worthless as most of these DINOs, I do give her credit for bucking Obama and pushing DADT repeal in the House.

  5. BloggerDave says:

    Not to worry… The seats of the red state senators on your list who are up for re-election will revert back to republican in 2014 so that will take care of your “Bad Democrat” problem…. Problem solved…

  6. Mark says:

    The smell of hunter gatherers. I live rural and remote in Alaska. (Begich has issues) The truth is after about a week of not bathing, if you are eating right and have clean clothes, everything levels out. The smells of BO comes from imbalance in bacteria. I get stinkier arm pits after 2 hours after a shower than I ever have after a month of treking around w/o a bath.

  7. Ford Prefect says:

    Please tell me this is the first installment of a series called, “America’s 100 Worst Senators”!

  8. emjayay says:

    Well, today politicians are all to some degree necessarily corporate whores. Some a lot more than others.

  9. karmanot says:

    Chambliis is an evil SOB—-good news!

  10. karmanot says:

    Reid and Pelosi first on the list.

  11. karmanot says:

    Superb analysis!

  12. BeccaM says:

    I think that one possible strategy is to start by targeting for primary and activist lobbying pressure those Dems who are doing the most damage overall. Right now, I’d say Harry Reid tops that list, followed close behind by Nancy “impeachment is off the table” Pelosi.

    The rank and file Dems pretty much do what they’re told to do — and all too often are also not told they need to hold the line on important votes. Hence we have things happening like Max Baucus eviscerating health care reform. Or Heitkamp voting the straight NRA-party line. Or all those Dems who ought to know better here are poised to vote for the TPP and Keystone XL.

    As the saying goes, the fish rots from the head down. I do think those who say that handing Congress over to the GOP would be a mistake do have a point. But the thing is, in some of these instances, we’re only talking a few key Senators or Representatives, not enough to throw the balance one way or the other. And moreover, there is the distinct possibility, if not likelihood, that a revitalized Democratic party that is more responsive to populist ideals and to its base voters would actually do better in elections than they have been.

    The Dems used to be against off-shoring jobs and solidly behind the ideal of organized labor and collective bargaining. Now they’re not. We used to be able to count on only having to fight the GOP to protect the New Deal and Great Society programs. Now we have to mobilize as much against the Dems as the GOP.

    One thing we need to do right now is to get out the message that if the Dems do badly in the 2014 mid-terms, as most of us here suspect will happen, that it will have nothing to do with gays or unwashed hippie stoners or minorities or lazy youngsters failing to turn out to vote. And everything to do with the Dems again breaking their promises and proposing horrifically bad policies, such as those you list above, Gaius — Keystone XL, TPP, and the gov’t-wide regressive adoption of chained-CPI — as well as all the things they failed to do through abysmally craven political leadership. (The Congressional Dem Progressive Caucus also needs a major backbone transplant.)

    The 2010 mid-terms were not and never were the fault of insufficiently civic-minded Democratic and Independent base voters. It was because the Dems took their near super-majority and actual 2-branch monopoly of legislative and executive power and pissed it all away. They failed to keep their promises and also governed like center-right Republicans.

    In 2012, the same thing happened — the Dems did far better than many suspected they would, because both the Congressional Dems and Obama played their populist piper’s song again. And once again, here in 2013, we see them behaving EXACTLY like they did in 2009. Backtracking, feckless, and whenever they do bestir themselves to get something done, it’s always in furtherance of neo-liberal corporatism, plutocrat-backed austerity, and authoritarian rule.

    We talk often here about how hilarious it is that the GOP thinks there’s nothing wrong with their policies, that it’s just a lack of ‘getting their message out.’ Well my friends, the Dems are afflicted with the exact same disease.

    Anyway, TLDR; version: I think our top targets for opposition and primary challenges should be the Dem leadership. Reid, Pelosi, and whoever thinks they’ll pretend to be a populist in 2016 for the presidency but in reality has every intention to govern like a neo-liberal plutocrat. Personally, this is why I would oppose a Hillary Clinton candidacy.

  13. FunMe says:

    “primary the DINOs” … THAT is the key!
    Way to many DINOs in the Democrat party.

  14. karmanot says:

    Excellent comment. I’m seeing corporations and the Demos as psychopaths and their servants as politician sociopaths, who use the concepts ‘nurturing/progressives’ in a brilliant play of propaganda to gain power and use it—–against those that brought them to the dance.

  15. karmanot says:

    I see bluedog roadkill.

  16. karmanot says:


  17. emjayay says:

    But what the post is about is the tendency for politicians – and peope – to be pretty consistent in the package of stuff they believe in. The thing written about the Tea Partiers being a new thing that only cared about the size of government and not all the other right wing stuff was, as has been shown – and insisted on back then by a lot of other people (like me) – to be untrue. They are just another slightly different variety of the same old far right wingers. John Birchers of the New Era.

    George Lakoff has discussed this tendency from various angles in a number of books, as have probably others. He of course divides people into authoritarian/absolutists and nurturing/progressives (or something like that). Not the whole story, but a lot to it.
    I’ve mentioned this a lot of times on various blogs hoping for arguement but no one ever bites. Maybe it’s too obvious to even discuss, but not brought up in the original post. Anyone?

  18. emjayay says:

    Here’s the part I see: under our Consitutional (as opposed to Parliamentary) system, third parties have never worked. It’s in the structure inadvertently created by the founders. They didn’t even think there would be parties. Third parties only work when one of the big two stick to some obsolete principles and go down. Then the third party becomes one of the big two.

  19. Ninong says:

    I live in a red state in the Deep South. One of my senators is a Democrat. Her votes don’t always represent my views but they do represent the views of the majority of the people in this state. My other senator is a Republican. His votes almost never represent my views.

    My Democratic senator voted to repeal DADT. She supports ENDA. She’s one of three remaining Democratic senators who have not announced support of gay marriage, saying that while she personally believes in marriage equality she is obligated to represent the people of her state, who passed a constitutional ban on both gay marriage and civil unions in 2004 by 78%.

    She never votes against the interests of Big Oil. This state if the second largest energy producer, after Texas, and the percentage of the population working in the energy industry is larger than in Texas.
    There are no potential Democratic primary opponents who would be more progressive who would have any chance whatsoever in the general election. In fact, the only potential primary opponents would be far worse for us in one area in particular. I think the same could be said for the situation in Alaska with Mark Begich. He’s as progressive as we’re going to get for that state. We can’t expect to see him vote against Big Oil or against the NRA and get reelected. He should have voted for background checks because that’s something his constituents support, but it would mean heavy NRA funding against him in 2014.

    We have to face the fact that we don’t have a parliamentary system. Senators and representatives don’t always vote in accordance with the stated policy positions of their political party. They’re expected to represent the people of their state or district. Sure, we can say they have a duty to provide leadership on important issues even if that means taking a position that is not yet supported by the majority of their constituents, but asking them to vote contrary to the views of three-fourths of their constituents is asking them to commit career suicide… and it’s contrary to our own best interests!

    If we want to change the way they vote on these issues, we have to change the views of their constitutents.

  20. PeteWa says:

    don’t ever read Cormac McCarthy, it will be very upsetting for you.

  21. GaiusPublius says:

    Thanks, Ron. Rats.


  22. GaiusPublius says:

    Thanks, Ron. But:

    A) Actually, no. google the phrase “define obsolete”.

    B) In English, we get to make things out of other things, so long as ppl get it. It’s one of the treats of our language (and one I take full advantage of).


  23. cole3244 says:

    from my political perspective most of the dem senators aren’t worth keeping anyway, from reid the spineless leader right on down the ladder, there are exceptions certainly but too few to make a difference in todays climate.

  24. condew says:

    If a third party candidate showed they were serious by running in the Democratic primary, I’d vote for them. As long as they pretend to run as independent or third party, they are just another incompetent, perennial “candidate” on a dangerous ego trip.

  25. lynchie says:

    never happen, can’t get on ballot, can’t get included in debates, can’t get funding to match the millions coming from the 1%. I used to believe that, voted for Nader twice but the power has totally transferred to the 1% and they don’t give a shit what we want. Sell more guns–good for business. Build the pipeline export the oil–good for business. Fuck up the economy–get bail out–good for business. Two illegal wars–good for business. Fund both parties at election time–good for business. What part do you see that allows 3rd parties to even get off the ground.

  26. RonThompson says:

    “TPP obsoletes national sovereignty.”

    Obsolete is an adjective, not a verb.

  27. RonThompson says:

    Uh, this just in:

    On January 25, 2013, Chambliss announced that he would not be running for a third term.

  28. Drew2u says:

    And the DNC will still fund them.

  29. Damien says:

    Pretty much no surprise and no news here. Move along, folks, move along. There’s nothing to see.

  30. Mike Meyer says:

    Third Party, Folks.

  31. ronbo says:

    Reid is the biggest problem. When (not if) the Repubs take the Senate, they will ABSOLUTELY change the rules so that the odds may be ever in their favor. It is Reid who is feeding the Republicans power. It’s our trojan-horse President who has fed Republicans power.

    Let’s not howl against the Republicans. A dog is going to bite – it’s their nature. The Dems need to stop going out of their way to feed them.

    Gaius, you are on target. But, I’d rather primary the DINOs to maintain the majority.

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