Sen. Lee says fight against gun control likely won't include 'speaking filibuster'
Laura Seitz, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Don't look for Utah Sen. Mike Lee and other opponents of new gun control measures to be dragging out the debate by filibustering on the Senate floor for days on end.
They're resorting to some procedural maneuvers instead.
"I never rule out anything. But I don't anticipate, given the procedural posture we're in with this bill, the need to use a speaking filibuster," Lee said. "I'm a politician. I'm always prepared to speak at length, but I don't anticipate that's going to happen."
Lee and more than a dozen other Republican senators, including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who just last month staged the longest talking filibuster in recent memory, are attempting to delay Senate action on the gun control bill at least until next week.
They've already apparently forced the Senate to muster a minimum of 60 votes for debate to proceed Thursday on the bill by sending a letter to Senate leaders promising to oppose moving forward on any new gun restrictions.
And even if supporters of the legislation backed by President Barack Obama win that vote, other Senate rules are expected to push the vote into next week, said Brian Phillips, Lee's communications director.
"Under the rules, we have a lot of authority to delay," Phillips said.
He said there has not been a threat of a filibuster similar to Paul's.
"I don't think a speaking filibuster is necessary to draw more attention to what it going on in the Senate. That was never our intent," Phillips said.
The president slammed efforts to "use political stunts to prevent votes on any of these reforms" at a rally Monday in Connecticut, the site of December's deadly school shooting.
Obama and Democrats have said repeatedly the families of the children and teachers killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School deserve a vote on the controversial bill expected to require universal background checks for gun buyers.
Even the GOP's 2008 presidential candidate, Arizona Sen. John McCain, spoke out against the efforts by Lee and other senators in his party.
"I don't understand it," McCain said on a Sunday morning talk show. "What are we afraid of?"
Lee defended the maneuvers as necessary to "ensure that anything that moves forward in this area will have broad, bipartisan consensus and protect us against the possibility of a backroom deal concocted and put together by one party acting alone."
He said it's still unclear exactly what language will be in the bill, but what has been discussed so far "would significantly restrict the rights of law-abiding Americans while doing little or nothing to protect against further gun violence."
The state's junior senator said overwhelming support for extending background checks in recent polls would not hold up if the public understood it would be, in his words, "feckless" without a nationwide gun registration system.
"Americans don't want the government maintaining a database of what guns they own any more than they want the government keeping records of how often they go to church, what they have for breakfast, or what books they like to read," he said.
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said Lee's attempts to stall action on the gun bill will play well in Utah.
"I think within Utah, this is a pretty safe political position," Burbank said, especially with active Republicans. "I think this is an easy call in that sense. They're probably extremely pro-gun. Very few people are going to be pushing for him to take a different position."
But there is some risk, Burbank said, of being seen in the larger political world "as perhaps somebody who really is just interested in blocking things, a bit obstructionist and perhaps not really interested in working out substantive solutions."
Less conservative Utah Republicans may be frustrated by what Lee is doing, Burbank said, but "the people who are going to complain he's not really getting things done are, by and large, not going to lead a moderate revolt against him."
University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle said Lee's stature could grow nationally.
"I think it will. It's going to depend a little bit on how it shakes out," said Hagle, a Republican activist. "Conservatives will start to know, hey, this guy is standing up for our rights."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has not sided with Lee on delaying the gun control vote.
"There's not a final bill to vote on yet, so it's too early to say," Hatch press secretary Matthew Harakal said.
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