SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Senators who blocked a broadly popular attempt to reduce gun violence by requiring universal background checks for gun sales have since faced an intense backlash.
But Bruce Braley, a rural Democratic congressman running for Senate in Iowa, said he would have considered joining them -- but not because he agreed with them. Braley's concerns don't center around the specter of a federal gun registry or fear of retribution from the National Rifle Association. Instead, he argued, the legislation was too generous toward gun manufacturers.
"The background check amendment as it currently exists, I probably would have opposed -- not for the reason most people think, but because it immunizes gun manufacturers, who get the economic benefit of that protection and use it to fund all of the assaults, legislative assaults on rational measures to reduce gun violence. And I told that to the Newtown families," he said in an interview with The Huffington Post on Friday at the annual Netroots Nation conference.
In 2005, Congress passed a law barring victims of gun violence from suing firearms manufacturers and dealers for negligence, part of the NRA's shift toward representing the interests of gunmakers over gun owners. The amendment by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) would have expanded that immunity to private gun sellers without a commercial license, as long as they implemented the background check requirement.
Braley has an F rating from the NRA, so he's not concerned about falling even further out of favor with the organization. On Election Day, he noted, newspapers in his district were delivered in a plastic sleeve with his opponent's picture on it, paid for by the NRA. He "strongly" supported the substantive policy of Manchin-Toomey, without the immunity protections, said Braley.
When asked whether he felt comfortable being the type of senator to oppose a popular measure because it didn't go far enough, he replied, "I expect to be that kind of senator, because that's the kind of House member I've been."
In April, the Senate blocked the background checks legislation, with 54 senators in favor and 46 opposed -- short of the 60 required to defeat a filibuster.
Braley is running for Senate in 2014, seeking to replace retiring progressive Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). He's the only Democrat in the field, with several Republicans already in and others debating a run.
Braley expects that outside groups will spend more than $20 million to defeat him. He said he would be open to an arrangement like the one between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate race in 2012, where they both agreed to keep outside money away from the race.
"You have to have a partner to do that in the campaign. And the great unknown is a) who my opponent will be, and b) what their viewpoint will be on that -- because I can tell you, if there was a way to make it binding and effective, I don't know of any candidate who wouldn't want to see that happen," he said.
Braley also said he supports reforming the filibuster rules in the Senate, so that legislation does not constantly need to overcome a 60-vote threshold to move forward.
"I understand why people who have been there a long time want to preserve it," he said. "But the reality is, in this highly divided Senate that we have now, even the most basic responsibilities of treaty ratification and judicial confirmations are just at a standstill and take up so much floor time that it keeps the Senate from doing its required policy-making. That's why I think progressives are willing to accept some of the risk of doing away with the current filibuster system if it means that we can get things done that the American people want to see happen."
He endorsed the idea of a "talking filibuster," which has been pushed by Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), where senators who want to filibuster actually have to get up and speak.
"I think that you should have to put some skin in the game," he added, "if you're going to delay floor action rather than just say I want this to happen, and therefore it does."