Pelosi: Lawmakers’ careers ‘insignificant’ compared to survival of America’s kids

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) delivered a stern message to fellow Democrats who might be wary of taking on the powerful gun lobby in the wake of Tuesday’s elementary school massacre in Texas: Your political careers, she says, are paltry compared to protecting the lives of kids.

In a letter to Democrats, Pelosi lamented the “unspeakable grief” of the young victims’ families; urged Republicans to reconsider their past opposition to tougher gun laws; and vowed that the House will be moving aggressively on its own set of anti-gun violence proposals, whether the Senate gets on board or not.

Pelosi suggested some tough votes may lie ahead.

“[O]ur sentiments and our moments of silence are not enough. We must take action,” Pelosi wrote Wednesday evening. “To Members of Congress, I say: your political survival is insignificant compared to the survival of America’s children.”

So far this cycle, Democratic leaders have tread fairly carefully in their approach to gun reform measures.

While the House last year passed two bills designed to bolster the FBI’s system of background checks prior to gun sales — bills that are stalled in the Senate — they have avoided more contentious proposals, including legislation to ban military style semi-automatic rifles, like those in the style of the AR-15.

Those firearms were barred in 1994, but they’ve become wildly popular in parts of the country since that prohibition ended in 2004. And voting to ban them again — even if the effort failed in the Senate — could pose a risk to incumbent House Democrats facing tough reelection contests in purple districts.

Tuesday’s shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where a teenaged gunman with a semi-automatic rifle allegedly killed 19 children and two educators, may change the math.

The tragedy came 10 days after another shooting massacre at a supermarket in Buffalo, where another single gunman, allegedly using a similar weapon, killed 10 people. And the combination of the two most deadly mass shootings of the year arriving back-to-back has moved House Democratic leaders into action.

First up will be legislation designed to preempt gun violence by keeping firearms from the hands of potentially violent people. Sponsored by Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), whose son was killed in a shooting, the legislation would empower federal courts to issue “extreme risk” protective orders barring firearm sales and ownership for individuals deemed to be a threat to themselves or others. The House will vote on the bill in the second week of June, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced Wednesday.

It remains unclear what specific gun reform measures the House might take up beyond McBath’s proposal. But Pelosi said the Uvalde tragedy has spurred Democrats on a number of House committees — including Judiciary, Rules and a special task force on gun violence — to begin weighing their options. She did not name them, but alluded to “strong” laws that restricted gun sales in years past.

“On multiple occasions, the Democratic House has passed strong, commonsense gun violence prevention legislation,” Pelosi wrote. “In the past, similar measures that became law have been proven to reduce the sale of dangerous weapons and save lives. We can and must do so again.”

Pelosi, who represents liberal San Francisco, is a long-time supporter of tougher gun laws. But as leader of a diverse Democratic Party for roughly the last two decades, she’s also approached the issue cautiously at times, reflecting the concerns of centrist lawmakers from districts where Second Amendment rights are more inviolable.

In 2010, during Pelosi’s first stint as Speaker, liberal Democrats had requested a hearing on expanding background checks. It was a tough midterm cycle with control of the House on the line. The liberals were denied.

This year, Democrats are facing another tough midterm cycle, when dozens of incumbents are vulnerable and the House is expected to flip to GOP control. In that environment, with Democrats controlling only a slim House majority, party leaders will have to gauge the temperature of their caucus carefully before bringing any gun bill to the floor. Even so, Pelosi is expressing confidence they can do so.

“As we have promised again and again to the courageous survivors of gun violence, we will never stop until the job is done,” Pelosi wrote.

The strategy of House Democrats to charge ahead with anti-violence votes marks a break from that of party leaders in the Senate, where Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) says he’s not planning any gun reform votes before bipartisan negotiators have the chance to attempt an agreement on legislation that could become law. To do so would require 60 votes to elude a GOP filibuster — a high hurdle in a chamber where Republicans are virtually united in opposition to any new restriction on the sale or possession of firearms.

“I know this is a slim prospect. … We’ve been burnt so many times before,” Schumer acknowledged Wednesday. “But this is so important.”

Fueling some hope among the Democrats, public opinion polls have consistently revealed broad support for a number of gun reform proposals, including the expansion of background checks, which is overwhelmingly popular across party lines. Pelosi said she’s hoping that sentiment registers with the GOP senators already lining up this week to block any new gun restrictions.

“As we go down this path, we do so with the confidence that the American people support action to combat gun violence – overwhelmingly and on a bipartisan basis,” she wrote in her letter.

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