Sen. Frank Lautenberg on Thursday blasted a House Democratic deal that would exempt the National Rifle Association from a new campaign finance measure, accusing his House counterparts of hypocrisy and warning he won’t back the bill if it comes to the Senate.
With the House expected to send the legislation to the Senate as soon as Friday, the New Jersey Democrat’s opposition, combined with a unified opposition from Republicans, could doom the legislation’s chances in its current form.
“It is the height of irony that Congress is considering special treatment for the NRA in a bill designed to limit the role of special interests in Washington,” Lautenberg said.
Lautenberg spokesman Caley Gray made clear that his boss will not support the measure if it comes to the Senate floor with the NRA carve-out included.
“Senator Lautenberg does not believe that the poster child for special interest lobbying should be exempted from these reforms,” Gray said. “Any bill that contains such a carve-out should not be expected to get the Senator’s vote.”
A number of Senate Democrats, including Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), have criticized the House bill, known as the DISCLOSE Act. But Lautenberg is the first Senate Democrat to explicitly warn he will vote against it if it includes the NRA carve-out. Democrats drafted the NRA language after realizing the opposition of the gun lobby was too strong and would imperil the measure’s passage. Amid concerns from liberals and an array of outside groups, Democratic leaders tweaked the measure again, expanding the carve-out to include smaller organizations that have at least 500,000 members.
Even Senators who said they would begrudgingly vote for the legislation were critical.
“I don’t like it, but we need to get it passed,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) said Thursday, saying he will “reluctantly” support the measure in order to undo the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
“I will reluctantly support it because it is either an NRA carve-out or corporate money will bury us,” he said.
Sen. Jack Reed agreed. “I don’t like it at all, [but] the Supreme Court decision is so potentially dangerous to the concept of people actually voting and participating that we have to take steps,” the Rhode Island Democrat said.
Although Democrats hope to win over some Republicans, a senior Senate GOP leadership aide warned that while the NRA provision may be the only way to pass the bill in the House, it also provides Republicans with cover to stand together to oppose a bill they don’t like anyway.
“It is the dictionary definition of crass political partisanship. If they thought the abortion lobby carried more weight than the gun lobby, they would have gone in that direction,” the aide said.