Georgia senators won't block gun debate

Georgia senators won't block gun debate

April 10th, 2013 by Chris Carroll in Local Regional News

Johnny Isakson

Photo by Patrick Smith/Times Free Press.

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., listens to a question from the audience during the Mason Public Leadership Lecture at the University of Georgia Chapel in Athens, Ga., Monday.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

WASHINGTON - Thanks in part to Georgia's two Republican senators, a conservative effort to block debate on gun control measures probably won't survive.

It all started early Tuesday morning, when two Peach State lawmakers unlikely to support a Second Amendment scrum did just that. Three years after receiving an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson took to "CBS This Morning" to say he potentially is open to expanding background checks.

More broadly, he said he welcomed debate on comprehensive gun control legislation inspired by December's Connecticut elementary school massacre, breaking from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and at least 13 other Senate Republicans who vowed to prevent any gun safety bill from reaching the floor.

"Anybody can do what they want to do," Isakson said in an interview after his TV appearance. "I just don't think there's any ambivalence about the gun issue one way or another. There's no reason not to have a vote on it."

Not long afterward, as he hopped an elevator to the Senate chamber, fellow Georgia gun-rights enthusiast U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss joined Isakson.

Chambliss criticized a letter signed by McConnell's dozen that said they would stall any "legislation that would infringe on the American people's right to bear arms."

"I don't think I'm going to support that," Chambliss said. "I just don't think it's the right thing to do."

Aides to Isakson and Chambliss were careful to clarify that neither man was expressing support for the gun control legislation itself, which calls for beefier school safety, expanded background checks and tougher penalties for illegal gun purchases and trafficking. But proceeding to debate is an important procedural step in the Senate, where a filibuster can prevent bills from being discussed for long periods of time.

"He thinks a full debate on the issue will be healthy," Chambliss spokeswoman Lauren Claffey said.

Riding newfound momentum, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised votes by Thursday.

"It is impossible to prevent every senseless tragedy, but we owe it to our children to at least try," Reid said Tuesday on the Senate floor. "I hope Republicans will stop trying to shut down debate [and] start engaging on the tough issues we were sent to Washington to tackle."

DIFFERENT APPROACHES

Isakson in particular seems to on be a quest to understand all sides. Late Tuesday he met with families of children killed in Newtown, Conn., all of whom are lobbying for tighter gun control.

But at least one Republican Southern senator -- U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama -- crossed Reid, joining McConnell, Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and others in pledging to block consideration of any gun legislation before debate even begins.

Still, they appeared vastly outnumbered late Thursday. According to the Washington Post, at least 10 GOP senators were poised to join all but a few of 55 Democrats in supporting consideration of various gun measures pending for Congress. Overcoming a filibuster takes 60 votes.

Tennessee's pair of Republicans floated above the fray Tuesday as they weighed various arguments. Sen. Lamar Alexander said he wanted more information on the process and bills themselves before deciding whether to filibuster.

"They're going to vote against bringing the bills to the floor," Alexander said. "I might, too, if I'm persuaded that we won't have a chance to offer amendments."

Asked to identify specific changes he'd make individually, Alexander cited "many amendments that many senators would like to offer."

Meanwhile, a top aide to U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said the former Chattanooga mayor will weigh all factors before making any definitive statements.

Except one.

"As a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, he doesn't understand why any senator wouldn't want to debate these issues," Corker chief of staff Todd Womack said.