NBC's Gregory: GOP Knew it Would Be 'Political Suicide' to Oppose Gun Bill

During a segment on Friday's NBC Today that suggested a "turning point for gun laws," co-host Matt Lauer declared: "Big story in Washington this morning, the Senate agreeing to move forward with the first major gun control legislation in decades, this after more Republicans than expected agreed to debate a proposal on new federal background checks for gun purchases."

Meet the Press moderator David Gregory proclaimed: "...the feeling among Republicans was, 'Don't stop the debate. That would be political suicide for Republicans to not let the debate go forward.'"

However, even as Lauer and Gregory touted the gun background check legislation being put up for a vote in the Senate, they both acknowledged an uphill battle for it to actually pass. Lauer observed: "...but it would be presumptuous, wouldn't it, for supporters of this legislation to think they've got it made?" Gregory agreed: "Oh, absolutely....you have a lot of people voting to let the debate happen who are not expected to be there in the end."

Lauer fretted about the influence of the National Rifle Association: "Some people think that that lobbying group has been weakened in the wake of the Newtown tragedy....in your opinion, is the NRA weaker or still as strong?" Gregory admitted: "Still as strong, I'd say without a doubt..."

He added that the gun rights group was "facing new difficulties," citing a Democratic senator arguing that the NRA "is being tea-partied in this whole fight, meaning they're facing attacks from their right, from other elements of the gun lobby putting pressure on them."

Gregory also revealed the cynicism of pro-gun Democrats: "I spoke to a Democratic aide who's got a boss who's up for re-election, who said, 'Look, the more gun votes the better, the more we can vote against some of these measures, the safer we'll be in a re-election fight.'"

Lauer still tried to spin the bleak assessment as a positive: "But at least there's debate. And when you look at the bigger picture, David, and you look at the fact that lawmakers are taking on gun control, they're taking on immigration, they're debating deficit reduction and the budget, does it send the message that perhaps Congress has heard the criticism, and they're actually getting down to business?"

Gregory joined in the wishful thinking: "I think that there's a feeling in Washington among Democrats and Republicans that the public is tuning them out because they don't think they can do anything big, so on all those issues they – you just mentioned, there's the prospect of actually doing something big."

On Tuesday's NBC Nightly News, Capitol Hill correspondent Kelly O'Donnell asserted that the "provocative move" by some GOP senators to filibuster gun control led others in the party to start "sensing public disdain."  

On Thursday's Today, political director Chuck Todd claimed Republicans would be hurt with women voters if they did not support gun restrictions.


Here is a full transcript of the April 12 exchange:

7:09AM ET

MATT LAUER: Big story in Washington this morning, the Senate agreeing to move forward with the first major gun control legislation in decades, this after more Republicans than expected agreed to debate a proposal on new federal background checks for gun purchases. David Gregory is moderator of Meet the Press. David, good morning to you.

DAVID GREGORY: Good morning, Matt.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Story to Watch; Turning Point for Gun Laws?; Senate Vote Leads to More Heated Debate]

LAUER: So the vote on this was 68-31 to move forward and debate this, a stronger show of support than a lot of people expected, but it would be presumptuous, wouldn't it, for supporters of this legislation to think they've got it made?

GREGORY: Oh, absolutely, because the feeling among Republicans was, "Don't stop the debate. That would be political suicide for Republicans to not let the debate go forward." So you have a lot of people voting to let the debate happen who are not expected to be there in the end. Democrats behind this bill are literally going down the list saying, "Well, you think I can keep that person along?" A lot of this, of course, has to do with the gun lobby.

LAUER: There seem to be two schools of thought on the NRA right now, David. Some people think that that lobbying group has been weakened in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. Yet you had two Democratic senators who voted against even debating this bill after the NRA said, "Basically guys, we're keeping a scorecard how you vote." They're both facing reelection. So in your opinion, is the NRA weaker or still as strong?

GREGORY: Still as strong, I'd say without a doubt, and facing new difficulties. I spoke to a Democratic senator who said the NRA is being tea-partied in this whole fight, meaning they're facing attacks from their right, from other elements of the gun lobby putting pressure on them to what's called score the bill, in other words, give a letter grade to watch how lawmakers vote on this.

I spoke to a Democratic aide who's got a boss who's up for re-election, who said, "Look, the more gun votes the better, the more we can vote against some of these measures, the safer we'll be in a re-election fight." So right now, supporters of the bill are looking for some cover from the NRA. Will they agree to sort of look the other way, not come out for the background check bill, but not penalize senators who vote for it. That, they feel, is their only chance.

LAUER: But at least there's debate. And when you look at the bigger picture, David, and you look at the fact that lawmakers are taking on gun control, they're taking on immigration, they're debating deficit reduction and the budget, does it send the message that perhaps Congress has heard the criticism, and they're actually getting down to business?

GREGORY: You know, I think it's an important point, Matt. I think that there's a feeling in Washington among Democrats and Republicans that the public is tuning them out because they don't think they can do anything big, so on all those issues they – you just mentioned, there's the prospect of actually doing something big. On gun control, it's not going to be complete, certainly not those who want to see greater regulation, but a background check bill that could ultimately perhaps even get through the House, that would still be seen as an accomplishment.

LAUER: Alright, what do you have Sunday?

GREGORY: Well, we'll talk about immigration, in addition to these other things. Marco Rubio, spear-heading the Republican effort behind it, will join us. Also Senators Gillibrand and Lee.

LAUER: Alright, David, thank you very much. We'll check you out Sunday on Meet the Press.

GREGORY: Thanks, Matt.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC