Congress’ most-serious gun-control effort in years cleared its first hurdle Thursday as the Senate pushed past conservatives’ attempted blockade under the teary gaze of families of victims of December’s Connecticut school shootings.
The bipartisan 68-31 vote rebuffed an effort to keep debate from even starting, giving an early victory — and perhaps political momentum — to President Barack Obama and his gun-control allies. Four months after 20 first-graders and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown were killed, relatives watching the vote from a gallery overlooking the Senate floor dabbed at tears and clasped hands, some seeming to pray.
Even so, few supporters of the legislation are confident of victory. Several weeks of emotional, unpredictable Senate debate lie ahead, and a mix of gun-rights amendments, opposition from the National Rifle Association and skepticism from House Republican leaders leave big questions about what will emerge from Congress. Foes of the proposed new restrictions say they would penalize law-abiding citizens and do nothing to curb gun violence.
“The hard work starts now,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who brought the legislation to the floor for debate.
Still, in a Congress marked by a notable lack of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans, Thursday’s vote was one of several displays of unusual rapport across party lines. In other examples not connected to the issue of guns:
Negotiators for the two parties said they had reached agreement on the major elements of a Senate immigration bill they’re expected to unveil next week.
The top Republican in government, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, publicly disagreed with his party campaign chairman’s criticism of Obama’s budget proposal to trim future Social Security and Medicare benefits. Wednesday night, GOP senators left a White House dinner praising Obama for reaching out to them on his budget.
Senators of both parties had a rare joint luncheon to honor Arizona Sen. John McCain, the GOP’s 2008 presidential nominee, on the 40th anniversary of his release from a North Vietnamese prison.
Hoping to bring pressure on Congress to act on gun control, supporters of new restrictions have been demonstrating in Washington. They have erected a mock graveyard with thousands of crosses on the National Mall, symbolizing victims of gun violence.