Matt Laslo

How the Senator from Sandy Hook beat the NRA by caving to the GOP

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Chris Murphy may still look like a kid, but he doesn’t legislate like a sophomore these days. In 2006, he was first sent to Washington as an anti-war thorn in President George W. Bush’s side, which is exactly what voters in the western Connecticut district he moved seven miles south to live in wanted. The area is treated as a suburb of New York City by many, including some of the roughly 9,200 people who call the once sleepy town of Sandy Hook home.

Murphy’s youthful zeal, coupled with his law degree, delivered results in Washington. He also set his sights on rooting out the culture of corruption that pervaded the nation’s capital back then (think Abramoff scandal), and he was credited with successes in increasing ethical standards in the House.

By 2012, Democratic Party leaders ensured the rest of the state knew his name. They helped bankroll his race against Linda McMahon, who spent roughly $50 million of her family’s WWE wealth on the race — roughly the same amount she spent losing to Richard Blumenthal, the state’s senior U.S. senator, in the previous cycle. Murphy outperformed pollsters and it was an early election night for the fresh-faced 39-year-old eager to shake up the staid Senate.

Everything was shaken up on December 14, 2012 – the day a once unfathomable school shooting transformed America, including aging Chris Murphy countless years, while also transforming an anti-war zealot into the senator from Sandy Hook. He’s spent countless hours with survivors in the ensuing decade, but only now was he able to hand them a victory they’ve prayed, cried, pleaded, marched, and begged lawmakers for: tangible changes to America’s gun laws.

With President Joe Biden’s signature now affixed, lawmakers defied critics and cynics alike when Congress passed the nation’s first gun-control law in roughly three decades. Many Democrats, advocates, and survivors are praising Sen. Murphy for helping accomplish what was viewed as impossible a mere 30 or so days ago – defeating the gun lobby and the powerful conservative messaging apparatus that does their bidding.

To secure passage, the coalition dropped Biden’s top gun-control priorities, risked stigmatizing mental health disorders, and even agreed to abandon all the measures proponents think might have possibly prevented the Newtown and Uvalde massacres. All those sacrifices proved necessary for Congress to ultimately defy all odds and make history. The effort’s success this time around is in no small part due to the Sandy Hook families and the everlasting grip they hold on Murphy. We’ve seen the lasting impact of that bitter December day on Murphy before; it’s manifested itself in speeches (lectures, according to some), filibusters, sit-ins, marches. This time the Senate and nation met a new Chris Murphy, a senator with a newfound mastery of the art of negotiation.

Even Murphy Thought It Would Fail

The group came together after a visibly broken Murphy took to the Senate floor the night of the Uvalde school shooting to call out his colleagues for senatorial inaction, before he begged them to come together to honor the memories of all the children slain at school. To attract and maintain the support of the 15 Republican senators whose votes proved decisive in turning a decades-long legislative dream into reality, Murphy methodically acquiesced to GOP demands, which resulted in a measure that increasingly narrowed into something critics say falls short. The proposal was whittled down further and further until it eventually emerged from behind closed doors as a skinny compromise measure focused on problems many Americans hadn’t previously considered.

From the start of talks, the far-right media machine, gun advocates, and the vast majority of elected Republicans unleashed a sustained and powerful disinformation campaign against the measure and its supporters, Democrats and ‘RINOs’ alike. As the gun lobby reached into its old playbook and sought to derail even a debate over American guns, at times, the now fresh-faced 48-year-old and his senatorial counterparts struggled to just keep talks alive.

Proponents also found themselves tasked with educating the public on the minutiae of their often confusing and always controversial policy talks. That came naturally to Murphy. He’s not Ivy League, but there’s a country club aura about him – like the one thick in the air in much of Connecticut.

While Murphy’s remained youthful – his voice still cracks occasionally – he’s not overconfident. Unlike many of his colleagues, he never comes across as greedy to be on TV, which is likely why he’s on our screens a fair amount. He’s not a slave to the lights, cameras, and action. Rather, he regularly exhausts every question from the ever-evolving cast of mostly print reporters who dwell in the mechanically lit Senate subway – missing tram car after tram car, even as he honestly, if half-heartedly, repeats an iteration of, “I really do need to go” before he inevitably fields another question. He’s rarely the first senator to speak publicly, though he’s often found himself batting cleanup and gently correcting the record after his colleagues misspeak.

That dedication to accuracy coupled with his patient appreciation of nuance was on display throughout the gun-control negotiations. Murphy rarely was divulging new details to the press – but he’d tell us when our information was dated, off, or just wrong. And the legislation morphed daily – at points, almost hourly – as negotiators frantically reworked the fine print until the proposal was formally enshrined in final legislative text. That physical bill was only finalized and released publicly Tuesday evening – a mere two-ish hours before 64 senators bucked the contemporary Senate tradition of filibustering most everything and voted to formally begin a gun debate.

“I'm less nervous than I was 24 hours ago,” Murphy told Raw Story at the Capitol the following day. “I couldn't have lived many more days on this Earth at the blood pressure level I've been operating at for the last four weeks. So I am – I'm a little bit more moderated today after last night's vote.”

Just a tad over a month ago, the Senate and nation met a new Chris Murphy. After being sad as hell in 2012 and 2013, Murphy turned mad as hell in 2016 after a domestic terrorist used legally acquired firearms to slaughter 49 people at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub while wounding 53 others.

Sen. Murphy stormed the Senate floor and launched into a 15-hour talking filibuster. The move garnered headlines, while also capturing hearts. He concluded that performative, if powerful, televised address, by pulling the veil back.

Besides offering a rare glimpse into the lasting impact the Newtown tragedy had on him when he recounted that he “saw and heard things that I…wish we didn't hear” that day, the senator focused on the tragic heroism of 52-year-old educator Anne Marie Murphy whose bullet-riddled body was found protectively laying atop the lifeless body of 6-year-old Dylan Hockley.

“It doesn’t take courage to stand here on the floor of the United States Senate for two hours or six hours or 14 hours. It doesn’t take courage to stand up to the gun lobby when 90% of your constituents want change to happen,” Murphy told his colleagues as he closed the filibuster. “It takes courage to look into the eye of a shooter and instead of running, wrapping your arms around a six-year-old boy and accepting death as a trade for just a tiny little itty bitty piece of increased peace of mind for a little boy under your charge.”

With the Orlando shooter having briefly been on the terrorist watch list, House Democrats piggybacked off of Murphy’s successful protest, and more than 40 of them stormed the House floor for a 26-hour long sit-in led by civil rights icon, former Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. Sen. Chris Murphy joined his former House colleagues for some of their impromptu protests and the party won many news cycles, even if Republicans refused to relent and Democrats tasted defeat once again.

The NRA Flexed

The NRA felt bullish, initially, when Republicans took over the House in 2017, and they pushed a measure to relax federal gun laws to make it so concealed carry permits from one state had to be recognized in states with stricter gun laws. The so-called sportsman measure also would have prohibited the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives from using “armor piercing” in describing bullets, and it removed some restrictions on silencers. With Democrats – and a gun-control movement that was growing in strength and stature – calling to bolster the National Criminal Instant Background Check System (or NCIS), the NRA convinced then-Speaker Paul Ryan to combine those background check enhancements with the pro-gun sportsman, or reciprocity, bill.

Republicans did that near the 5th anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

“This is appalling,” Rep. Elizabeth Esty – who replaced Murphy in the House – told me at the time. “To take a good bill, to then combine it with something that is unnecessary and reckless, and to do it on the day of the already scheduled 5th national vigil to honor victims of gun violence is beyond offensive.”

In the ensuing years, the gun-control movement got more sophisticated – from building an impressive fundraising machine to getting its own think tank to change the NRA narrative through data and polling – and they got more bullish at the ballot box, racking up impressive electoral victories in key suburban districts nationwide. But the movement also got more grassroots, especially in the wake of Parkland. Unlike Newtown survivors, the teenagers who survived the rampage could tell their own stories, and demand changes themselves.

They demanded better background checks in their March For Our Lives demonstration in Washington – which also witnessed rallies in cities across America.

“This is very personal,” Doug Edwards – the father of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students – told me at the time.

That year Republican governors in Florida, Nevada, Ohio, and Vermont bucked the NRA and passed an array of measures, including measures that enhanced background checks, raised the age to purchase firearms, banned bump stocks, etc. With the success in state capitals, they thought they’d see results in Washington.

“I grew up in the sixties,” Edwards said, “and I remember protesting Vietnam and Nixon and all of the things that were the woes of the time. For a long time, I felt a lack of hope, and now with these kids, I feel very hopeful.”

While their hope remains, they met the cruel reality of a Washington dominated by the NRA. Congressional Republicans refused to even hold votes on gun reform that summer.

Newtown Became a Part of Murphy

Now the father of a fourth-grader, Sen. Murphy opted against antics this time around. Instead, he only needed some five minutes of floor time to rebuke the Senate in the knowing way only a member of that exclusive club of 100 can, especially when it’s the senator from Sandy Hook.

“What are we doing?” Murphy asked from the well of the historic Senate chamber on May 24, hours after we first learned of the tragically predictable shooting in Uvalde. “Days after a shooter walked into a grocery store and gunned down African American patrons, we have another Sandy Hook on our hands. What are we doing?”

When Murphy was compelled to deliver that passionate rebuke of business as usual, we only knew of 14 dead children in Texas. By the next morning we learned 19 were lost.

www.healthdata.org

A decade ago, the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in his native Connecticut ended with twenty 6- and 7-year-olds in tiny caskets, along with five teachers and their beloved principal. Republicans in Congress refused to engage. A stance they’ve mostly stuck to over decades of mass shootings. Flashes of rage glowed in Murphy’s red, sad eyes before turning to sorrow the next moment during his impromptu floor speech.

“I understand my Republican colleagues will not agree to everything that I may support but there is a common denominator that we can find,” Murphy said on the Senate floor, “but by doing something we at least stopped sending this quiet message of endorsements to these killers.”

An impassioned speech in the wake of a mass shooting has, sadly, become somewhat regular at the contemporary Capitol. But something changed. This time around a few GOP senators answered his cries for negotiating partners.

Critics predicted the effort would unravel. Eyes rolled across Washington when it was reported Murphy was in talks with one of Mitch McConnell’s most trusted lieutenants, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). The whispers of doubt were loud and everywhere.

How can a proudly A-rated NRA member from Texas find common ground with a Connecticut progressive? Murphy himself didn’t have an answer.

“I understand the prospects for getting 60 votes are slim – they're always slim,” Murphy – an attorney and political activist by trade – told some in the congressional press corps the day after the Uvalde massacre. “I've begun to talk to some of my Republican colleagues about some ideas – some old ideas, some new ideas. And I'm not going to talk about it on the record, but my hope is that we can find some common ground.”

Murphy may have been so hesitant at first because he’d been here before.

Cornyn and Murphy Have Talked Past Each Other Before

In 2013, as former President Obama was pushing and pleading with Congress for action in the wake of Newtown, the families of those slain at Sandy Hook also took to the marble halls of the Capitol to demand action. A day after Cornyn met with some of those families close to a decade ago, the Texas conservative stood on the Senate floor and calmly dismissed pleas for new gun-control measures.

“I am not interested in a symbolic gesture, which would offer the families of the Sandy Hook shooting no real solutions that they seek,” Cornyn dispassionately intoned. Cornyn, as he did in negotiations this time around, called for mental health reform to counter mass shootings.

“We need to make sure the mentally ill are getting the help they need – not guns,” Cornyn said at the time.

Eerily enough, Murphy gave his maiden Senate floor speech the day before Cornyn’s speech – the very day Cornyn was meeting with the families of those slaughtered in Newtown.

“I never imagined that my maiden speech would be about guns or gun violence. Just like I could have never imagined that I'd be standing here in the wake of 20 little kids having died in Sandy Hook or the six adults who protected them,” Murphy told his colleagues. “Sometimes there are issues that find you.”

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) was in the president of the Senate’s chair during Murphy’s maiden speech.

“I presided when he gave his first speech after the massacre in Newtown, so I’ve known him for 10 years,” Schatz told Raw Story at the Capitol. “It just shows everything is impossible until it's done.”

Soon after those back-to-back Cornyn and Murphy gun-control speeches, the Senate took up – at President Obama’s urging – gun-control. There were speeches, but there was no debate. Cornyn and other Republicans filibustered the motion to even debate enhanced background checks (the so-called Manchin-Toomey plan) along with a longshot proposal to ban some long guns.

The NRA unleashed an aggressive pro-gun campaign, because the tragedy touched a nerve nationwide, including in Republican cloakrooms at the Capitol. Instead of leading with compassion and compromise, the lobby clenched its vice-like grip on politicians on Capitol Hill. It worked.

Moments after the measure was defeated, the Newtown families held, hugged, and consoled the other inconsolable families at the Capitol. They did everything right. They had lobbied the nation’s political class since losing their loved ones. While office doors were open to them across Capitol Hill, most lawmakers’ hearts and minds were closed. They’d already pledged allegiance to the gun lobby.

“Next time there’s a mass shooting it’s going to be on their hands,” Erica Lafferty, the daughter of slain Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung, told me just off the Senate floor after that 2013 defeat. “It will be on their hands, absolutely.”

Biden, Democrats and Advocates Got Rolled

Even as Cornyn secured mental health reform in this week’s gun package – something that makes many Democrats and public health officials nervous, because the mentally ill are usually on the other end of a smoking barrel – Murphy focused on ushering in what he hopes is a new day in Washington: One was gun-control can debated, if not passed.

The final measure didn’t include Biden’s top laundry list of demands. There’s no assault weapons ban. It doesn’t raise the age to buy firearms. It doesn’t ban extended clips. Ghost guns aren’t mentioned. While that makes the measure fall woefully short in the eyes of most progressives and advocates – not to mention the permanently scarred survivors and perpetually grieving family members – to Murphy, enough was enough.

This time around, Murphy set out to break the NRA’s logjam, not appease his party’s progressive wing.

“I think he knew exactly the kind of political risk he was taking by being relentless and never giving up,” Schatz said, “but he just couldn't stomach more kids dying.”

The bipartisan group of negotiators bucked Washington norms, especially Murphy.

“I think what I admire most is that this town rewards people who act savvy by saying ‘nothing is ever possible,’ because it's a sort of safer bet to bet against something happening,” Schatz said. “Worked and worked and worked, and suddenly it became possible.”

Rather than heading into negotiations with a list of demands, each senator – well, each Democrat – spent the first couple weeks giving up their preferred policy proposals; the ones they clung hardest to over the years. Those talks were surely hardest on progressives from the northeast, according to a southern conservative who was a part of them.

“The important part of the first two weeks was what we weren’t going to do,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) told a couple of reporters while riding the tram under the Capitol. “There were specific things: We were not going to create mandatory waiting periods. We were not going to prohibit certain firearms that can be legally purchased today. We were not going to implement a federal red flag law.”

It’s almost like the negotiators spent their first days together sizing each other up – testing the seriousness of the other side’s commitment to getting to "yes."

“So that first week or two was like, ‘are you willing to have a discussion knowing that these are not on the table?’ and people negotiated in good faith,” Tillis recalled. “And we had a productive outcome.”

Conservative Media Machine & Progressive Purists

Republicans were viewed as apostates for even sitting down to talk, and progressive purists complained each time one of their favored proposals was unceremoniously banned from the talks.

Pressure to abandon the deal only increased as negotiations stretched on past the first weeks. Some rank-and-file Republicans, those who just showed an openness to review the final package before judging it, received blistering blowback at home. In some cases, it was effective. Local voters were compelled by many far-right and alt-right pundits who accused supporters, including Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, of abandoning a core tenet of contemporary conservatism: Guns, guns, guns. The pundits' pressure campaign never let up.

"Has there ever been a greater, more brazen sellout of any group of voters than what Republican Sens. Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn and the rest are doing right now?” Tucker Carlson asked in primetime on Fox Tuesday evening during the initial Senate vote, which officially launched three days of debate on the measure. “Talk about a subversion of democracy. If they keep this up the system will collapse. You have to represent the interest of your voters. That’s why you’re there.”

Tucker Carlson Tears Into GOP Senators Who Voted for Senate Gun Control Bill youtu.be

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, even some Republicans were surprised by the outpouring of calls and emails they received from constituents begging them to act.

“There were lots of them: ‘Do something.’ Just lots of ‘do something’ calls,” Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) told Raw Story. “Those calls just said, ‘do something.’ They didn't say specifically what.”

Those calls slowed as the tragedy receded from the headlines. When negotiators announced the contours of their deal, a flood of new, more animated and some aggressive calls started pouring into congressional offices across Capitol Hill.

For Lummis, the bulk of the calls after Uvalde were from Wyoming area codes, so not out-of-state activists. After the deal came out, Lummis was also flooded with local calls. It was night and day.

“Now it's people calling with concerns about gun restrictions,” Lummis continued. “So it really just flipped dramatically. It's just like, overnight.”

The misinformation campaign from the right ultimately worked on 70% of Senate Republicans, including Lummis, who opposed the watered-down measure.

The GOP orthodoxy paraded by pundits and that pressures all elected Republicans is now increasingly being enshrined in law by the conservative Supreme Court justices handpicked by the far-right Federalist Society. The day before Congress passed its historic gun measure, the high court upended a New York law that restricted resident’s ability to carry concealed firearms outside their homes.

“This Supreme Court is clearly an activist Supreme Court,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) told Raw Story at the Capitol Thursday. “They believe in states’ rights to take away women’s reproductive freedom, but they don't believe in states’ rights on issues of public safety and common-sense gun laws.”

On Friday, as protestors flooded the Supreme Court grounds in anguish and anger over the decision abolishing Roe v. Wade, the U.S. House of Representatives made history and joined the Senate in passing the compromise gun measure.

"Yesterday (the court said) the states cannot make laws governing the constitutional right to bear arms," Pelosi told the congressional press corps Friday, “and today, they're saying the exact reverse, that the states can overturn a constitutional right (that was) for 50 years a constitutional right."

Pelosi on Supreme Court abortion ruling: ‘The harm is endless’ l ABC News youtu.be

The speaker spoke for most Democrats when she unleashed on the justices.

"The hypocrisy is raging, but the harm is endless," Pelosi added.

Hypocrisy to Democrats is now party orthodoxy on the right. The contrast between last week’s actions to tighten gun laws by an elected, representative branch of government and the move to loosen restrictions made by unelected, lifetime tenured justices could not have been more stark.

This is a trend. The court looks to be systematically outlawing local gun-control measures, which happen to be restrictions adopted in blue states. In 2008, the court started with the District of Columbia and its Heller decision, which declared it unconstitutional for local leaders in the nation’s capital to require things like trigger locks or that firearms be stored empty. Two years later, in McDonald v. City of Chicago the conservatives on the court again dismantled a law that banned handguns while also restricting long guns.

“Them not understanding the moment we're in,” Gillibrand continued to berate the justices. “We are a country that is trying to do something on a bipartisan basis to have common sense gun reform – to ensure public safety for our children and our communities – to come up with this decision shows number one, how out of touch they are. And number two, how activist and political they are.”

Dismantle What?

While there’s some fear the court could dismantle parts of the new gun law Congress just passed at breakneck speed, many progressives say there actually isn’t that much to unravel.

“This is one step forward and two steps back,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) told Raw Story of the measure she and every other Democrat in Congress supported, if begrudgingly.

The new law increases mental health funding and allows the federal government to entice states into passing ‘red flag laws,’ which make it easier for family and friends to petition for guns to be removed from those who are a danger to themselves or others.

The thing is, most everyone agrees the new gun law would not have stopped the very tragedy that awoke – and broke the hearts of – Congress.

“Nothing in these bills is going to prevent an 18-year-old from impulsively buying an assault weapon, and we have to address that. It makes no sense,” Speier told Raw Story at the Capitol after it passed.

Speier contends the compromise doesn’t represent the sea change some are claiming – or hoping – it does. The broad opposition from House Republicans is damning to the Californian. While 15 GOP senators supported the gun law in the end, only 14 House Republicans joined them. That means 93% of House Republicans voted with the gun lobby.

Put another way: The measure only won the backing of 29 GOP lawmakers across Capitol Hill, which means 88.85% of all federally elected Republicans voted against even a watered-down measure which Cornyn and Republicans characterize as a mental health law – not a gun-control measure.

“Look at all the things President Biden said he wanted: None of that’s in there,” Cornyn boasted to me as we walked under the Capitol the morning negotiators announced the compromise. “We’re going to focus on safety and mental health.”

In spite of it feeling like a pyrrhic PR victory, Speier says there’s one undeniable bright spot.

“We have broken the spell that the NRA has had on Congress,” Speier contended. “I like to think it's a chink in their armor, yes, but it only is a chink in their armor if we can get universal background checks. Do you realize that 300,000 people are denied guns every year through universal background checks? So we need that law to be expanded to gun shows and internet sales. I mean, it is the law, so it should cover all of the circumstances.”

The congresswoman is a survivor of gun violence. In 1978, she was shot five times during the Jonestown massacre that left 909 dead in Guyana at the hands of deranged cult leader Jim Jones in Guyana. Speier still bears the scars, including the internal ones. Her then-boss, Rep. Leo Ryan of Pennsylvania, three journalists, and a defector of the People’s Temple were killed on the runway as they tried to escape. Speier and the other wounded victim lay bleeding for 22 hours on that remote bloodstained runway littered with dead bodies before help came. She eventually underwent 10 surgeries and remained hospitalized for two months.

As a survivor, Speier knows the victory is important to the families of victims – from Newtown to Uvalde, along with and all those grieving and struggling to heal in between.

“Well, they just desperately wanted a victory, and this is a small but important victory – in that the NRA didn't win and that's the solace,” Speier said.

While Congress passed a new law, according to Speier, lawmakers failed to do their basic duty.

“But the next mass shooting at a local elementary school – what are we going to do?” Speier asked, “Are we going to say we fixed it? We clearly didn’t.”

Solace for Some Survivors

Survivors aren’t monolithic.

“Be happy with the wins that we've made and know that we're making progress, and that we're going to save lives,” Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA) told Raw Story through a sigh at the Capitol, “And that's really pretty much what I'm trying to focus on. Of course, we know there's more to be done, but there's another day.”

In 2012, McBath lost her 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, to three of the 10 bullets an older white man unleashed into the car full of teens he was a passenger in. That tragedy never leaves her – it’s what drove her to run for Congress in the first place. That permanent loss coupled with her determination has made her a leading voice on gun violence in Washington since arriving in 2019.

Even if the new law won’t stop a Uvalde, she finds immense solace knowing the measure will save another mother, father, sister, or brother from enduring the unspeakable pain she carries daily.

“It's a momentous victory, because every piece of legislation in this package will save lives,” McBath said. “And that's all that really matters, is just: it will save lives. And it gives hope to people. It gives hope to Americans who just truly want to feel safe in their own environments, in their own communities, and it does that. It doesn't do everything, but it does that and we’re excited for this.”

Other longtime proponents of gun safety measures are also focusing attention on the bright spots. One of the biggest – and, arguably, most unexpected – victories is Congress taking concrete steps to end the so-called boyfriend loophole. It’s something Sen. Murphy and other gun-control proponents have discussed for years, but, besides survivors and victim’s families, few outside of advocacy circles even knew it was an issue. The new law Biden signed extends gun restrictions on spouses convicted of domestic violence to boyfriends and other partners. In recent years, proponents have repeatedly failed to pass it. Until now.

“We've been trying to close the boyfriend loophole forever. Republicans have prevented [the Violence Against Women Act] from passing because we tried to close that loophole,” Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) told Raw Story moments before joining Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she officially signing the gun bill at the Capitol Friday afternoon. “So, if we did nothing else but that, it’s a lifesaver.”

While many progressives and gun-safety advocates remain upset the measure doesn’t go further, it’s an undeniable win for this movement that didn’t exist – at least not in its current, cohesive form – a decade ago. The NRA had claimed Washington as its own for years. But after Newtown, Murphy joined the survivors in upending regular order and now there’s a new, increasingly powerful lobby in the nation’s capital.

The movement gained new energy in the wake of the 2018 Parkland, Florida school shooting in Florida, after being informally launched in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Tragically, its ranks grow daily as communities across the nation bury loved ones senselessly lost to gun violence. With this win under their belt, And they’re more optimistic now than ever as they gear up for the midterms. But last this week, they did something new. They cheered.

Getting to Yes Wasn’t Easy

The final gun deal came about because senators ripped up the tired Washington script and instead started negotiations from a new place. The core, bipartisan group of Senate negotiators remained bound together by a personal pledge each vowed from their grieving hearts in the wake of losing 19 schoolkids in Uvalde, just as 20 children were snuffed out in Newtown some 10 years ago.

“There was an overriding desire here to do what could be done, rather than let everything each individual wanted – including Sen. Murphy – become the obstacle to getting things done,” retiring Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) told Raw Story. “I think this is one of those cases where there was a broad base desire to see what we could do as opposed to what individual members thought was the perfect solution.”

The unlikely bipartisan group of senators defied the odds in no small part because of Murphy – the man whose Senate career is forever marked by Newtown; he was their Representative in the House before becoming their senator, after all. And that's the way he likes it. Tears, heartache, dreadful memories, and all. It’s also something his colleagues can’t help but see in him – an unrelenting fight driven by the all too fresh memories of one of America’s saddest days. A horrific day Murphy couldn’t erase from his being if he tried.

That’s why many in Washington sensed this day coming for some time. And not just because the NRA has been scandal-ridden as it’s dealt with internal turmoil and mismanagement. The NRA being on the ropes surely helped the effort, but the movement for common sense gun laws is being driven by an immovable force: the survivors themselves. They have many allies in Washington, but Murphy, their senator, was molded by the same tragedy that transformed their lives. It’s something never far from his mind, which is why Murphy knew how to help steer negotiations away from the landmines that have prevented even a gun debate, until last week.

“I'm not surprised. Chris has been very engaged, very persistent on gun safety issues for years,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) told Raw Story while walking through the Capitol. “I'm really impressed with how well he led this effort and really grateful for his role in this.”

Even as many survivors of gun-violence never cared – and still don’t – for politics, they tuned in last week. It’s their fight. And in a town marked by big egos and bipartisan dysfunction, they witnessed the unthinkable, as Murphy pushed aside his long list of preferred gun-control measures and instead focused on the politics of the possible. It was new. Even novel.

A palpable air of optimism permeated the Capitol – one that hasn't been there in decades. That optimism flowed from the countless communities – small and large; wealthy and impoverished; conservative and liberal alike – dotting the nation where families are still reeling from senseless violence delivered at the hands of perpetrators with easy access to handguns, long guns, short barreled guns, shotguns, ghost guns, extended clips, and more body armor than the average street cop will ever need.

No one gets all they want at the Capitol. But in contemporary Washington, few if any get even a sliver of what they want. That’s why – even as proponents ready to build on these new gains – last this week not only made history; it also gave many grieving hearts a momentary respite from their pain as they tasted victory and handed the NRA its first real legislative defeat in roughly 30 years.

The episode instilled a renewed sense of hope in many on and off Capitol Hill. Survivors demanded change. They persisted. They changed Washington.

A decade ago, they changed Murphy before he was even sworn into the Senate. He was transformed in their sorrow, and to this day he represents them and their loved ones – ones he never met but who he represents daily. The two are forever linked. That’s why they shared the victory together.

“I'm always careful not to speak too broadly for victims and for survivors, but it's been gratifying to know that many of the Newtown families I've come to know are really emotional about this bill passing,” Sen. Murphy said. “This is the first time since the death of their children that they've seen Congress step up and act in a way that makes these shootings less likely. And for them, of course, it's 10 years too late, but it's still gratifying.”

Democratic Congresswoman explains why Rep. Scott Perry is 'mighty afraid' of Jan. 6 Committee

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) spoke to Raw Story after the first hour of the House Select Committee's Thursday night hearing before the public. Dean was among the impeachment managers for the House in the second impeachment of former President Donald Trump.

She explained that she was crying a lot about what has been shown in the committee hearing thus far.

"It sucks," she confessed. "It's incredibly sad. I'm so sad for our country. I'm not sad for me. We're reliving, of course, what we went through, but I'm just so damn sad for our country. So many people were lied to — to the extent of coming and attacking police, lawmakers, the seat of our democracy. I'm just, I'm so sad for our country."

When asked about Republican attempts to whitewash the Jan. 6 attacks, Dean said that there's no way that they can whitewash it, particularly after seeing those videos.

"Look at people being beaten by American flags, flagpoles with Trump flags," she continued. "There's no whitewashing this."

She went on to say that the way that Republicans claim to be supportive of police is just as absurd given their refusal to support the supplemental bill for Capitol Police after their injuries.

"They're not pro-police," she said.

Dean then explained that what doesn't make sense is what a former member of Congress, Mark Meadows, was saying and doing and that he refused to help protect the vice president and his own former colleagues.

"Can you imagine, how many hours the president did not do a single thing to save us? Can you imagine Ronald Reagan — if a single member of Congress — if his own vice president was threatened — No. 1, he'd be whisked away to a secure space. Not Donald Trump. No. 2, he would have been impeached so quickly for spending hours watching and doing nothing."

She closed by saying that while the Congressional body isn't something that can charge and convict a former president, they can do one important thing: "tell the truth."

"These aren't alternative facts," she said. "These are facts. They are telling the American people the facts. The Department of Justice will do their job. Different states will do criminal investigations and indictments, including Georgia, where the president said...'I just need you to find 11,780 votes.' And I remember a gasp from a Senator in that moment. He will be indicted for that. This is all closing in on the former president. Then we have a job to do as Congress. We have to do like Congress did after Watergate. We have to do reforms."

She then cited some of the Republicans she serves with, like Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) who is refusing to cooperate with the committee. He was the one who put Eastman in touch with President Trump, she explained. "Then fearfully seeks a pardon? And of course, you know he's not cooperating with the 1/6 committee. What's he afraid of? I said on the day that it happened if I have one inch of information that will help you in this committee, and understand what the hell happened here, I'm here. I volunteered. I don't have that valuable a set of information. Scott Perry has valuable information. And he's mighty afraid."

Senate Republicans still haunted by January 6th riot – but more than half refusing to watch tonight's hearing

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More than half of Republicans in the Senate tell Raw Story they have no plans to watch the historic Jan. 6 select committee hearing this evening.

“That's the House’s business,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) told Raw Story at the Capitol.

“Even though it was an attack on the U.S. Capitol?” I asked the attorney and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“That’s all I got for you,” Kennedy says as he turned.

More so, many Republican senators say don’t care what the House select committee finds, which was evident while asking 40 of the Senate’s 50 Republicans what they think of the special committee.

“I was here, and I saw it and know what I saw,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) told Raw Story.

During the Watergate hearings, Republican senators were as inquisitive, transfixed, appalled, and eventually as angered as the American people became as the facts unfolded. Not so today.

“It has nothing to do with reality,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) told Raw Story of the select committee. “I think it’s completely partisan.”

Granted, there are Republicans on the committee. Two of them, Reps. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who a slew of Senate Republicans only recently served alongside in the House, including Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND).

“They don’t count. I mean, they were appointed by the Speaker because they hate Trump,” Cramer told Raw Story. “So whether they’re Republicans or – I mean, I like both of them personally – their only criteria for being on that committee is that they hate Donald Trump.”

Mitch McConnell cleared his throat before I asked about his Thursday evening plans, which was more emotion than the deep stare I shared with former Vice President Mike Pence’s brother when I asked.

The collective narrative from the right is that the prime time slot and made-for-TV production is reason enough to dismiss the investigation.

“It's theater,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) – who used to chair the Intelligence Committee – told me. “You just hired a TV guy to produce a congressional hearing? Give me a break.”

The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed – but only after disagreeing.

“Obviously, I care about what they found,” Grassley said, “but it doesn’t matter what they found because just the fact they’re having their hearing on primetime on television speaks that it’s a political operation, rather than a legitimate congressional investigation.”

Democrats laughed off this new collective GOP charge.

“I wasn't aware that senators started to boycott appearances on TV,” Rep. Jaime Raskin (D-MD) told Raw Story on his way to a House vote.

A handful of Senate Republicans who won’t be watching the proceedings and don’t trust its underpinnings said they’re open to hearing new information from the committee.

“Obviously I’ve got questions. Everybody has questions in every different area – there’s no way you can’t,” Sen. James Lanford (R-OK) told Raw Story while exiting the Capitol. “This doesn’t appear to be fact-finding. This appears to be something very different.”

Lankford contends he’s in no rush because over time a fuller picture will be painted, which he admits the special committee will contribute to – just not complete.

“They’ll bring some things out,” Lankford said. “The facts and info will come out. There's just too many people involved.”

The Senate moderates also don't plan to be watching, but they have questions -- and staffs.

“I probably won’t watch it, because I just don’t watch any of that stuff. I just read about it the next day,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) told Raw Story. “So yeah – I’ll be interested.”

Others don’t like the bitterness and bickering that’s marked the special committee, but they still have questions they’d like answered about Jan. 6.

“Of course. What? Who? How did it get to that point? What were they thinking? What were they?” Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) told Raw Story while walking in the Capitol. “So yeah, I think there are lots of questions out there – and what were the involvements of everybody?”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) is receiving an award tonight, and senators say they’ve already got plans -- most of which involve flying home. And at least one GOP senator who actually wants to see the evidence – or lack thereof – himself knows there’s an app for that.

“I’ll probably have to call my wife and tell her to DVR it for me,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) told Raw Story after voting on the Senate floor. “I think it’s a political stunt, but I’m going to watch it like I do everything. You’ve got to take in all the information, but in this case, I think it was ill-founded from the get-go.”

As for the special committee’s audience? Its chair says their audience isn’t the staid Senate anyway, they have one audience tonight.

“The American public,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) told Raw Story on the Capitol steps. “We plan to tell the truth as we have discovered it and share that truth with the public. And obviously, at the end of the day, it's the public's decision as to who's truthful and who's not.”

Exclusive: Progressives have a blueprint to unpack Mitch McConnell’s court

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For nearly five decades the GOP has promised to eradicate Roe v. Wade, yet in the month since we learned the Supreme Court plans to do just that Democratic Party leaders still haven’t laid out a plan to save women’s reproductive rights as we’ve known them. That’s why three progressive Democratic senators say it’s time the party reconsiders their concrete, if highly disagreeable, blueprint to unpack Mitch McConnell’s court: Pack it themselves.

At the start of this Congress, both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed calls to expand the size of the Supreme Court, but that was before news leaked that the court plans to overturn Roe. Progressives say the Democratic Party has already been outflanked by McConnell who they accuse of stealing President Obama’s final Supreme Court selection, and they say it’s foolish to pretend he didn’t.

“The deck is already stacked. I mean, talk about being a chump,” Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) told Raw Story through an uncomfortable laugh. “All of this happened and then you say, ‘Oh, now we have to protect the integrity of the court. Now we have to do everything we can not to politicize the court.’ No. If you really believe that that’s happened, you have to get real.”

Since the leak, Democratic leaders have been holding show votes, steadily filling their campaign coffers, and reminding the base to vote in November. None of those efforts would rebalance the court, which is why Smith says the party needs to get its recent history straight on Merrick Garland never getting a vote, let alone nomination hearings.

“The first step is recognizing what's happened, and then this next step is to figure out what to do about it,” Smith recently told us at the Capitol. “I think the court needs reform, and adding justices to the court is, to me, an obvious step to take.”

Even as the Democratic Party is derided as ‘the radical left’ by the right’s messaging machine, in the Senate the proposal to expand the Supreme Court from 9 to 13 justices is only supported by Sens. Smith, Elizabeth Warren, and Ed Markey. While the latter both represent solidly blue Massachusetts, Smith is technically a member of the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party (or DFL) whose ranks once included the likes of Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale.

The three senators aren’t necessarily more progressive than their Democratic colleagues, yet they remain outliers. Smith says they shouldn’t be. She endorsed the so-called court-packing measure at the end of last year, when the Supreme Court upheld a restrictive Texas anti-abortion law.

“I was like, ‘if you can't see in this moment that the Supreme Court has become a political arm of the extreme right-wing of the Republican Party, then you're never going to be able to see it,’” Smith continued.

The House proposal to expand the size of the Supreme Court has 56 cosponsors. But even in the wake of the Roe leak, the progressive measure isn’t attracting much attention in the staid Senate.

“I haven't had a lot of conversations with my colleagues about this,” Smith said.

Neither has Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), but she predicts that will change in the coming weeks, months, and years.

“I think the magnitude of the Roe decision is still seeping through Congress and through the rest of the country,” Warren recently told Raw Story at the Capitol. “The impact of an extremist Supreme Court isn’t just overturning Roe – it’s so much more.”

Warren opposed expanding the size of the court while running for president, but at the end of 2021 she announced her change of mind in a Boston Globe op-ed where she described today’s 6-3 conservative majority as a “Republican hijacking”.

“I don’t come to this conclusion lightly or because I disagree with a particular decision; I come to this conclusion because I believe the current court threatens the democratic foundations of our nation,” Warren wrote at the time.

While Democratic leaders have yet to unveil their strategy for rebalancing the Supreme Court, they’re keeping their distance from this proposal to expand the number of justices.

When asked about court-packing proposals, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin was quick to distance not just himself, but the whole party, from the proposal.

“No,” Durbin (D-IL) responded when Raw Story recently asked him about the measure at the Capitol. “No party position.”

Even with women and young girls nationwide on the brink of losing their reproductive rights, most rank-and-file Democrats are also refusing to consider a potential expansion of the Supreme Court.

“I don't think that's even on the table,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) told Raw Story at the Capitol. “The focus right now is trying to win a bigger majority.”

Booker is on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He maintains, even with polls steadily showing the GOP riding high going into the midterm elections, the answer for Democrat’s current quandary lies in the voting booth.

“I think this is clearly a point where a woman's bodily autonomy is on the ballot in November,” Booker said, “and if we are returned with a big enough Senate majority, we can protect the most sacrosanct principle in America, which is: the government can't tell me what to do with my body.”

Progressive darling, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), has also refused to sign onto the court expansion proposal. He says the answer to this conservative court is eradicating the filibuster, even if that means Mitch McConnell and Republicans could then ban abortions federally every time they regain the majority.

“That’s the way life is,” Sanders told Raw Story when asked about future Republican majorities outlawing abortion federally. “I think it’s terribly important in this moment that we do the right thing.”

The Senate proposal to re-pack the court is sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA). When he first introduced it in the spring of 2021, he argued four additional justices were needed to protect vulnerable Americans.

“Republicans stole the Court’s majority, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation completing their crime spree,” Markey said. “Of all the damage Donald Trump did to our Constitution, this stands as one of his greatest travesties. Senate Republicans have politicized the Supreme Court, undermined its legitimacy, and threatened the rights of millions of Americans, especially people of color, women, and our immigrant communities.”

These progressive senators also support further ethics reform for the justices, along with proposals to increase transparency at the Supreme Court. But Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota says those measures don’t address the current problem: That Roe’s days are numbered.

“I don't think ethics reforms by themselves are going to restore the balance to the court that is required now,” Smith argued.

Smith and the other progressives are open to other ideas to restore the makeup of the court, but those have been lacking.

“If anybody has a better idea, like, I'm all ears,” Smith told Raw Story, “but I haven't heard anything.”

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