The Last Word
updated 3/22/2013 4:21:20 PM ET 2013-03-22T20:21:20

After a backlash from his base on the left, Senator Reid's office goes on defense over gun control measures being considered on Capitol Hill. Lawrence O'Donnell explains the Majority Leader's strategy in his latest Rewrite.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been taking some heat from his base after dropping the the controversial assault weapons ban from the legislative package of gun control measures he plans to bring to the Senate floor.

In a statement late Thursday, the Senator’s office confirmed those reports but offered an explanation. Reid released this statement obtained by NBC News’s Mike Viquiera:

“Later tonight, I will start the process of bringing a bill to reduce gun violence to the Senate floor. This bill will include the provisions on background checks, school safety and gun trafficking reported by the Judiciary Committee. I hope negotiations will continue over the upcoming break to reach a bipartisan compromise on background checks, and I am hopeful that they will succeed. If a compromise is reached, I am open to including it in the base bill. But I want to be clear: in order to be effective, any bill that passes the Senate must include background checks.

“The bill I advance tonight will serve as the basis for opening debate. Once debate begins, I will ensure that a ban on assault weapons, limits to high-capacity magazines, and mental health provisions receive votes, along with other amendments. In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for all of these provisions to receive votes, and I will ensure that they do.”

It is that second paragraph that is so critical in explaining why an assault weapons ban is not a legislative impossibility. In his latest Rewrite segment, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell said, “There was going to be a vote on the assault weapons ban on the Senate floor whether Harry Reid included it or not. What we know now is that vote will be up to Dianne Feinstein. If she offers it on the Senate floor (as an amendment) and fights for it, there’s a chance — there’s always a chance it could pass.”

O’Donnell said it will take voters calling and emailing their senators to encourage them to stand with Senator Feinstein. O’Donnell encouraged Twitter users to use the hashtag #StandWithDianne.

For information on contacting  your senator click here or call the Capitol Hill switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

Video: O’Donnell: Assault weapons ban not dead

  1. Closed captioning of: O’Donnell: Assault weapons ban not dead

    >>> we've all seen the headlines. assault weapons ban dead. you've seen those, right? well, it's time to rewrite those headlines to assault weapons ban not dead. that's right. not dead. judging by my twitter feed, many of you are very angry at harry reid tonight for killing the assault weapons ban in the package of legislation that was voted out of the judiciary committee . the judiciary committee 's legislation on gun safety includes universal background checks, among other things. an assault weapons ban was also in there. the vote in the committee on the assault weapons ban was straight party line , ten democrats in favor, eight republicans opposed. but unfortunately, the judiciary committee does not reflect the politics of the senate as a whole. the judiciary committee , like some other committees, is a bit more liberal than the full senate . those committees can sometimes pass bills that cannot pass the senate . it is not unusual for the majority leader of the senate , whether he's a republican or a democrat, to slightly rewrite committee past bills before introducing them to the full senate . the majority leader 's rewrites and edits have one guiding principle in mind, attracting the votes needed for passage. committee chairmen have to do exactly the same thing to get bills through their committees. the question is always the same. what happens to a bill if a certain controversial provision is in it from the start and what happens if it's left out? and leaving it out does not mean the controversial provision won't end up in the bill through the amendment process, which is exactly how dianne feinstein 's original assault weapons ban ended up in the crime bill in 1993 . it wasn't in the judiciary committee 's crime bill that was called up on the senate floor by the majority leader , and it wasn't in the house version of the bill at all. and so senator dianne feinstein offered it as an amendment on the senate floor and argued her case and on november 17th , 1993 , there was a roll call vote on the senate floor, and dianne feinste feinstein's amendment number 1152 to the crime bill and the feinstein assault weapons ban passed with 56 votes. including ten republicans. some of the democrats who voted yes were from states where voting for gun control took political courage. max baucus of montana, david born of oklahoma. dale bumpers and dale prior of arkansas. tom daschle from south dakota . jim exxon and bob carey from nebraska. wendell ford from kentucky. sam nun from george. and harris wofford from pennsylvania. they deserve to be mentioned and remembered by name here and now, because theirs was the kind of political courage that has largely evaporated in the senate . most of the names i just mentioned are no longer senators. and democrats don't have senators from places like oklahoma, georgia and kentucky anymore. and the senate seat of former arkansas democrat david prior who i had the pleasure of working with in the senate is now occupied by his son, mark prior , who is far to the right of his father. harry reid is the leader of that senate , the mark prior senate , not the david prior senate . harry reid is the leader of the senate where nine of the ten republicans who voted for the 1993 assault weapons ban are no longer senators. harry reid 's job is to figure out the right strategy for bringing gun legislation to the senate floor. it is the hardest job in the senate , and it is misnamed. his title should not be majority leader . it should be majority strategist or majority scheduler. because no senator ever has to follow the majority leader . and in today's senate , no senator ever will follow the majority leader . democrat or republican. if there is a re-election risk involved. and so the majority strategist, harry reid , had a choice. put the assault weapons ban in the bill, going to the floor, and watch as the first amendment offered on the floor would be an amendment to strip out the assault weapons ban , or bring the bill to the floor without the assault weapons ban and watch dianne feinstein offer it as an amendment just like she did last time and harry reid is making the second choice. he announced tonight, once debate begins, i will ensure that a ban on assault weapons limits to high capacity magazines and mental health provisions receive votes along with other amendments. in his state of the union address , president obama called for all of these provisions to receive votes, and i will ensure that they do. there was going to be a vote on the assault weapons ban on the senate floor whether harry reid included it in the original version in the bill on the senate floor or not. what we know now, the vote will be up to dianne feinstein . if she offers it on the senate floor as we know she will, and fights for it as we know she will, there is a chance -- there's always a chance it could pass. there is time to make that happen. but she cannot do it alone, and it won't happen on the senate floor. it has to happen before we get to the senate floor. if max baucus is going to vote for the assault weapons ban again, montana voters have to tell him to do that. if republican dan coats is going to vote for the assault weapons ban again, indiana has to tell him to do that. you have to tell them to do it. harry reid is doing his job. dianne feinstein is doing her job. but the 57% of americans who support the assault weapons ban have to do their jobs. you have a few weeks, at least, to get this job done before that bill comes up on the senate floor. and in the meantime, you can attack harry reid all you want for not miraculously doing this on his own. but it's kind of uncool for you to be attacking harry reid too loudly if you haven't done your job to make sure that your senator stands


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