CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that Leahy commented on the assault weapons ban.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will oversee any lawmaking relating to gun control or immigration reform, two of the most contentious and high-priority issues that are likely to come up in Congress in the coming months. And its powerful chairman — who declined to pursue the top job on the Appropriations Committee in order to stay in his current post — knows it.
In a speech at the Georgetown University Law school, Sen. Patrick Leahy hit some of the same notes as President Obama on gun control. The Vermont Democrat said he favored closing gun-show loopholes and tightening the background-check process on gun sales. He also hinted at support for a limitation on high-capacity magazines, noting that one of the only gun laws in his home state of Vermont restricts hunters from carrying more than six rounds of ammunition in their rifles during deer season.
"Are we going to say we're going to be more protective of our deer than our children?" Leahy asked the audience. "I think not."
But Leahy, speaking before Obama's announcement, stopped short of endorsing the administration's position that an assault-weapons ban should be included in any legislation. He noted in his speech that he did not believe the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, which he voted for, should have been allowed to expire, and said such weapons should be a part of future discussions. (He departed for the White House immediately afterward to hear Obama’s remarks.)
The senator will hold hearings in two weeks on a range of related questions, from caring for people with mental illness to exposure of children to violence in the media.
On another of Obama's priorities, Leahy also plans to hold hearings on immigration reform in February and said the committee will spend much of the spring working to pass a comprehensive bill. “We must find a way through the partisan gridlock to enact meaningful change, which should include a path for citizenship,” he said. He also said he would like to see passage of the Dream Act.
Asked about ongoing work by some legislators, such as the so-called Gang of Eight and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Leahy reminded the audience that the ultimate authority rests with his committee.
He’ll listen to proposals “whether it’s a Gang of Six or Twelve,“ Leahy said. “But in the United States Senate, we need a Gang of 51 to get it through.”
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