- Created on 24 January 2013
(CNN) -- On one side were pegboard panels mounted with various assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons -- including a Bushmaster similar to the one used in last month's Newtown school massacre.
Behind the stage stood police officers supporting a renewed ban on such firepower. One by one, victims of gun violence told their brief stories and expressed support for a new federal ban being proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein on some assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons.
Almost six weeks after the Connecticut shooting rampage that killed 20 first graders, Feinstein said she planned to introduce her measure later Thursday, with Reps. Carolyn McCarthy of New York and Ed Perlmutter of Colorado doing the same in the House.
Feinstein's proposal would upgrade an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and also outlaw ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
She said the goal is to "dry up the supply of these weapons over time."
"These massacres don't seem to stop," the California Democrat lamented, listing notorious rampages of past years known by the lone name of their locations -- Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Tucson and Oak Creek.
"We should be outraged at how easy it is" for attackers to get hold of the semi-automatic weapons or large-capacity magazines used in those slaughters, Feinstein told the event at the U.S. Capitol that she organized.
Her legislation is opposed by the nation's powerful gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association. That means that despite a push by the White House and Democrats for tougher gun control steps, Feinstein's full measure is given little chance of winning congressional approval.
In a statement on Thursday, the NRA said that Feinstein "has been trying to ban guns from law-abiding citizens for decades."
"The American people know gun bans do not work and we are confident Congress will reject Senator Feinstein's wrong-headed approach," the organization added.
In a sign of the gun lobby's influence, a nine-day sports and outdoor show scheduled to take place in Pennsylvania next month was postponed Thursday because the NRA withdrew its support over the decision by organizers to ban the display of "modern sporting rifles" -- the kind of semi-automatic weapons targeted by Feinstein's proposal.
At her Washington event, Feinstein acknowledged that enacting a ban was "really an uphill road," adding: "If anyone asks if we can win this, the answer is we don't know, because it's really uphill."
She then made a plea for people to call their senators and House members to declare "enough is enough," adding that a mobilized public is "stronger than the gun lobby."
Later Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden made a similar appeal in an online discussion on Google, saying: "Make your voices heard."
He insisted that a reasonable ban on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as strengthening background checks, presented no threat to the constitutional right to bear arms.
"It's not about keeping bad guns out of the hands of good people," Biden said. "It's about keeping all guns out of the hands of bad people."
President Barack Obama called for renewing the assault weapons ban as part of his package of gun control proposals announced earlier this month in response to the December 14 Newtown school massacre and overall gun violence in America.
Feinstein's measure would stop the sale, transfer, importation and manufacture of more than 100 specialty firearms and certain semi-automatic rifles, as well as limiting magazines to 10 rounds or less, she said. Not all of the weapons in the bill meet the technical definition of assault weapons.
The restrictions would not apply to guns owned before enactment of any law. Feinstein noted her proposal exempts from the ban more than 2,000 models used for hunting or sporting purposes.
"They are by make and model exempted from the legislation," she said, adding that the old ban had 375 such exemptions.
Those exemptions were an apparent effort to garner support for the measure from conservative Democrats and others expected to face fierce lobbying by the NRA and constituents.
Supporters of more gun control acknowledge the constitutional right to bear arms, but argue that rifles capable of firing multiple rounds automatically or semi-automatically exceed the reasonable needs of hunters and other gun enthusiasts.
They also contend that high-capacity ammunition magazines provide the capability for mass shootings such as the Newtown massacre.
Opponents contend the Second Amendment forbids the government from this type of limit on weapon ownership by citizens.
They worry that such a weakening of gun rights would signal a shift that would leave citizens defenseless against criminals and, some also argue, against potential future government tyranny or abuse. Instead, the NRA has called for increasing armed guards at schools to protect students.
Speakers at the event organized by Feinstein rejected arguments that anyone beyond the military or law enforcement officers needed such firepower.
"How are you going to hunting with something like that?" asked Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, pointing to the assault weapons displayed to his left. "You kill something, there's nothing left to eat."
Continuing bloodshed on the nation's streets -- with dozens dying every day from gun violence -- should be enough evidence to overcome the past inability to get gun control legislation enacted, he argued.
"If the slaughter of 20 babies does not capture and hold your attention, then I give up because I don't know what else will," Ramsey continued, thrusting a pointed finger for emphasis.
At Feinstein's request, people who were injured or lost loved ones to gun violence, including several from the Virginia Tech massacre, then offered their support for her efforts.
Some told of losing a parent or child. Others described how attackers inflicted carnage so quickly.
Pam Simon, a staff member to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, said she was a few feet away from the congresswoman on the day both were shot outside a Tucson grocery store.
"On that day, 30 bullets were delivered in less than 30 seconds," Simon said.
Some of the weapons on display Thursday are currently against the law in the District of Columbia, and Democratic sources told CNN that Feinstein coordinated with police on being able to have the guns there.
NBC's David Gregory was recently investigated for holding a banned ammunition magazine on the network's "Meet the Press" program broadcast from Washington. No charges were brought in that case.
Obama's proposals include expanding and strengthening background checks on gun buyers to ensure all sales include screening to prevent weapons from going to criminals and the mentally ill.
While the gun lobby has indicated support for some improvements in background checks, it remains opposed to other steps, saying they won't prevent criminals from getting weapons.
Instead, gun advocates urge tougher enforcement of existing laws and making criminals serve their full sentences.
Biden led a panel assembled by Obama in December to examine gun control steps after the Newtown shootings, which sparked a fierce public debate over how to prevent such mass killings. Biden's recommendations formed the basis of the package of proposals Obama announced this month.
A recent CNN/Time Magazine/ORC International poll indicated that Americans generally favor stricter gun control, but they don't believe that stricter gun laws alone would reduce gun violence.
In announcing his gun control package, Obama also signed executive actions that call for tougher enforcement of existing laws and require federal agencies to provide data for background checks.
New York state recently enacted a series of new gun regulations, the nation's first since the Newtown shootings. Ten other states are reviewing some form of related action.
The issue is among the most politically divisive in the country, as demonstrated by the decision by Reed Exhibitions to postpone the nine-day Eastern Sport and Outdoor Show scheduled to start February 2 in Harrisburg.
On Tuesday, the NRA withdrew its support for the show due to the decision by organizers to ban modern sporting rifles from exhibition.
"We had called on Reed Exhibitions to reconsider their decision; unfortunately they have steadfastly refused to do so," an NRA statement said. "As a result, the NRA will not be participating in the upcoming show in Harrisburg or in any other shows hosted by Reed Exhibitions that maintain this policy."
In announcing Thursday that the show was off, a Reed Exhibitions official said the intent of excluding "certain products" was to focus on hunting and fishing traditions of the event.
"It has become very clear to us after speaking with our customers that the event could not be held because the atmosphere of this year's show would not be conducive to an event that is designed to provide family enjoyment," said Chet Burchett, the company's president for the Americas.
"It is unfortunate that in the current emotionally charged atmosphere this celebratory event has become overshadowed by a decision that directly affected a small percentage of more than 1,000 exhibits showcasing products and services for those interested in hunting and fishing," he added.
CNN's Halimah Abdullah, Kevin Bohn and Todd Sperry contributed to this report.
- Created on 24 January 2013
(CNN) -- The Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate have agreed on language reforming filibusters, and after presenting the proposal to their respective caucuses Thursday afternoon the measures appear poised for passage.
Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell proposed a list of reforms that would curb the use of filibusters and streamline other procedures in order to speed up floor action. The measures would require the support of each party's caucus, and will be subject to a series of floor votes, which could happen later Thursday.
Senate Democrats heard about the proposal from Reid at a caucus meeting Thursday, and multiple Democratic senators said its appeared to garner strong support. Senate Republican leaders circulated details of the proposal to their members, and a GOP aide said there have been no major issues raised by GOP senators to this point.
A filibuster is a tactic used in the Senate to delay or prevent a vote on legislation. Reid and McConnell's proposal, according to one Senate aide, offers a compromise that would reduce the number of filibusters while ensuring the minority party gets votes on some amendments.
The proposal allows for two paths that could be used to begin debate on legislation, avoiding filibusters designed to prevent debate from actually taking place.
In the first path, Reid would allow two amendments from both parties to be presented, with the caveat that if an amendment isn't relevant to the legislation at hand, it would be subject to a 60-vote threshold.
On measures where Reid and McConnell agree, a second path allows votes to overcome filibusters to be held the day after Reid files a procedural petition, instead of the two-day period currently in place. That change would disallow stalled votes on consensus legislation.
The proposal will also limit debate on some presidential nominations that require Senate approval.
Democrats have complained that the minority Republicans deliberately overuse the filibuster to block Democratic legislation. A group of junior Senate Democrats pushed Reid to pass broad reforms - including reinstating the requirement that senators conducting a filibuster speak continuously on the floor - by using a controversial method that would change Senate rules with just 51 votes instead of the 67 customarily required.
Republicans, furious they might be jammed, argued the filibuster is the only leverage they have to get roll call votes on amendments that otherwise are routinely denied them by the majority Democrats. They say if Democrats push the reforms through on 51 votes - what Republicans call the "nuclear option" - it will destroy relations between the two parties and lead to massive gridlock in the chamber.
A bipartisan group of senior members, led by Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Carl Levin, D-Michigan, offered the alternative compromise that became part of Reid and McConnell's proposal.
"We are going to change the way we do business here," Reid said Wednesday. "We can do it either the easy way or the hard way but it's going to change."
Reid insisted Tuesday he has the 51 votes needed to pass the reforms if Republicans don't agree to a compromise.
- Created on 24 January 2013
As residual excitement from the second inauguration of President Barack Obama continues to flow through Black America, or rather the 95 percent who voted for him in the 2012 election, there are a growing number of Black conservatives quietly strategizing on the most effective methods to broaden a...
- Created on 24 January 2013
Following President Obama's call to action on climate in his inaugural address this week, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Rep. Henry Waxman (CA-33) announced a new bicameral task force to fight climate disruption.
The NAACP released the following statements in response:
"We commend Senator Whitehouse and Representative Waxman for establishing this crucial Task Force today," said Hilary Shelton, NAACP Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy and NAACP Washington Bureau Director. "We look forward to working with the members of the Task Force to develop effective policies and help to focus public attention on this urgent challenge."
"The Task Force will serve as a valuable resource for members of Congress to generate ideas, share proposals and coordinate efforts on climate change," said Jacqueline Patterson, Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program. "The need for a comprehensive, nationwide plan to address the severe weather events that we have seen must be definitively addressed before conditions worsen.
The NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program was created to educate and mobilize communities of color to address climate change as a civil rights and human rights issue.
- Created on 23 January 2013
(CNNMoney) -- The House on Wednesday passed the "No Budget, No Pay Act," a Republican bill that would effectively defuse the debt ceiling threat for several months.
The bill would let the Treasury Department borrow new money until mid-May. In exchange, the legislation would require lawmakers in both chambers of Congress to pass a budget resolution or have their pay withheld until they do.
The vote was 285 to 144, largely on the back of Republican support.
Most House Democrats spoke out against the bill. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the salary provision a "joke" and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer called the bill a "political gimmick" that perpetuates uncertainty.
But other leading Democrats said they would support the bill because it takes the immediate threat of default off the table and divorces the debt ceiling from Republican demands for spending cuts.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Senate would pass the House bill.
President Obama will not oppose the bill if it reaches his desk, even though he would prefer a longer term debt ceiling increase, the White House said Tuesday.
House Republicans have said for the past two years that they would not raise the debt ceiling unless the increase is matched by a comparable amount of spending cuts. But the bill passed on Wednesday notably doesn't include that quid pro quo.
Here's how the bill would work:
The proposal would suspend the debt ceiling until May 18. And Treasury could continue to borrow for payments that have to be made during the suspension period and nothing else. "In short, no funny stuff," Donald Marron, a former Congressional Budget Office, noted in his blog.
The debt ceiling would then be restored at its current level of $16.394 trillion plus however much Treasury borrowed during the suspension period.
After May 18, Treasury likely could once again use "extraordinary measures" to stave off the prospect of default for up to two months, giving Congress a little more time to raise the debt ceiling, said Pete Davis, a former Hill budget staffer who now runs Davis Capital Investment Ideas.
The bill would also open a path to a longer term increase: It would require the House and Senate to each agree by April 15 to a budget resolution for fiscal year 2014. And such a measure, which is intended to set spending and revenue levels for the next five to ten years, can include debt ceiling increases, Davis said.
If the House and Senate don't meet the April 15 deadline, lawmakers' pay would be withheld until they pass a budget resolution or until the current Congress ends in January 2015, whichever comes first.
So it's not that lawmakers won't get paid if they miss the deadline. Their salaries would be held in escrow and paid out at some point later.
It's also noteworthy that the bill doesn't actually require Congress to enact a budget, just that each chamber pass a budget resolution, Marron noted.
House Republicans, in coming up with the temporary debt ceiling solution, are in essence conceding that the debt ceiling fight is not their best shot at securing spending cuts and substantive deficit reduction.
Two make-or-break opportunities loom for negotiations over the budget. Unless Congress act by March 2, the pending sequester would trigger close to $1 trillion in defense and non-defense spending cuts that no one in Congress likes.
And if they fail to act by March 27, federal funding will expire entirely and the government would be shut down until lawmakers can find some way to agree on spending and taxes for the next year or at least another few months.
- CNN's Ted Barrett and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.