(Photo: T.J. Kirkpatrick, Getty Images)
USA TODAY - Majority Leader Harry Reid on Monday called for a group of 13 Republican senators to rescind their threat to block votes on a series of upcoming gun measures and scolded them for "blatant obstruction."
"I'm deeply troubled that a number of my Republican colleagues went so far as to send me a letter saying we will agree to nothing, there will be no debate, there will be nothing, we want you to do zero on anything dealing with stricter gun measures," Reid said. "There is simply no reason for this blatant obstruction except for the fear of considering anti-violence proposals in full view."
The lawmakers sent Reid a letter Monday, indicating they would block legislation "that would infringe on the American people's constitutional right to bear arms, or on their ability to exercise this right without being subjected to government surveillance."
Republicans signed onto the letter were: Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky; Mike Lee of Utah; Ted Cruz of Texas; James Inhofe of Oklahoma; Marco Rubio of Florida; Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts of Kansas; Richard Burr of North Carolina; Ron Johnson of Wisconsin; Mike Enzi of Wyoming, James Risch and Mike Crapo, both of Idaho; and Dan Coats of Indiana.
"I repeat, many Senate Republicans are afraid to even engage in this debate," Reid said. "Shame on them."
The current version of the Senate gun bill would strengthen current laws on gun trafficking and straw purchasers, increase grants for improvement in school safety and expand background checks to nearly every gun purchase. Senators have been trying for weeks to negotiate a bipartisan deal on background checks, but have yet to strike a compromise.
Measures to bar high-capacity magazines and military-style assault weapons are expected to be voted on as amendments.
The Senate bill was crafted in response to the Dec. 14 mass shooting of 20 children and six educators inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Reid referenced the Newtown shooting as well as several others that occurred over the past few years as reasons the measures should receive a full Senate vote.
"The least Republicans owe the parents of these 20 little babies who were murdered at Sandy Hook is a thoughtful debate about whether stronger laws could have saved their little girls and boys," Reid said. "The least Republicans owe them is a vote."
Reid stressed that Republicans will also receive votes on their amendments and encouraged them to offer a proposal if they are unsatisfied with the current bill.
"If Republicans disagree with the measure, let them vote against it," he said.
This appears to be the preferred path of Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who is continuing to draf an alternative to Reid's gun bill. Grassley's plan could come as "as separate issues or packaged in some way," according spokeswoman Beth Levine.
"Sen. Grassley is considering alternatives that emphasize support for the Second Amendment that might include fixing the (background check) system, providing resources to help address mental health problems and school safety, protection for veterans from false health determinations and gun trafficking," Levine said.
Reid's comments came after the White House expressed its own frustration with Republican lawmakers.
"If they oppose this legislation, have the courage to say so on the floor and vote no," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday, hours before President Obama was to deliver an address on gun control in Connecticut. "Don't block it. Don't hide behind a procedural action to prevent a vote. That's the wrong thing to do, and that's how the president clearly feels."
On Sunday, White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer blasted GOP lawmakers for threatening to block gun votes. "If you remember, during the State of the Union, with the families of Newtown in the audience, every member of Congress stood up and applauded when the president called for an up-or-down vote on these measures," Pfeiffer said on Sunday. "Now that the cameras are off and they are not forced to look the Newtown families in the face, now they want to make it harder and filibuster it."
(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)