With President Barack Obama preparing to push a legislative agenda aimed at curbing the nation’s gun violence, pillars of his political network, along with independent groups, are raising millions of dollars and mapping out strategies in an attempt to shepherd new regulations through Congress.
But the efforts, designed in large part to counter opposition from the National Rifle Association, face serious political obstacles on Capitol Hill. The NRA spent more than $20 million on federal election campaigns last year, and its lobbying muscle extends from Washington to state capitals around the country.
Most Republicans in the GOP-controlled House also oppose additional gun regulations, as do some key Democrats in the Senate — meaning that the groups aligned with Obama will have to persuade dozens of skeptical lawmakers to vote for the president’s eventual proposals.
The groups, whose leaders are in regular contact with the White House, are working to enlist religious leaders, mayors, police chiefs and other influential constituents to lobby their local lawmakers in their home districts. The organizations also plan to stage rallies at congressional town hall meetings across the country in much the same way tea party activists mounted opposition in 2009 to Obama’s health-care overhaul.
A trial run for the burgeoning campaign came this week when the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence ran hard-hitting ads in North Dakota and Capitol Hill newspapers against Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who said Sunday that some of the gun measures Obama is considering are “extreme.” After the ads — which told Heitkamp “Shame on you” — the freshman senator’s office issued a statement opening the door to supporting some gun-control measures.
“You have to get those members of Congress who think the easiest position is to be with the NRA to think that someone will walk up to them in the supermarket and say, ‘Why can’t we just have background checks?’ “ said Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank helping to coordinate the effort. “They have to think of these as mainstream issues.”