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Congress: The Newtown families' strength

The Boston Globe: “Families of those lost in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School watched from the gallery as the Senate voted Thursday 68 to 31 to consider a bundle of proposals aimed at curbing gun violence and massacres.”

Politico on how the Newtown families have figured out the levers of power in Congress: “When a lobbyist for families of Newtown shooting victims called the office of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to set up a meeting, the first response was a standard D.C. offer. They could get a meeting with her staff, and a quick and simple ‘hello’ from Collins herself, they were told. The families’ answer: Not good enough. According to their lobbyists, the families have a rule against staff-only meetings: they won’t do them. They insist on sitting down with the senators themselves. That rule is just one of the ways that the Newtown families, political novices just a few months ago, are proving to be savvy, effective advocates as they promote the gun legislation that has finally begun to move through the Senate. The families are well-educated, and many are well-off. They have been polished and sharp on TV. They’re mostly non-political, but quite accomplished in their own fields. With access to money and media, they’re using persistence, visibility — and, most all, their unique moral authority — to help prod Senate action. They also have their own lobbyists — several of them, in fact.”

NBC’s Kasie Hunt: “This week, the U.S. Senate remembered Newtown. Last Thursday morning, no Senate Republicans were actively talking to Democrats about gun legislation. GOP senators were piling on to a threatened filibuster. And top Senate aides quietly doubted whether they could even scrape together the 60 votes needed to begin debating the bill on the floor. While the president had recently declared “we have not forgotten” the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, even the most vocal advocates of gun control started to wonder if too much time had passed for the tragedy's emotional resonance to lead to the first major federal gun control legislation since the 1990s.”

But National Journal writes that in the House, Republicans “yawned” at the Senate’s progress on guns. “Despite the considerable progress made in the upper chamber toward a bill that could pass the Senate—most notably, the expanded-background check provision drafted by Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.—nothing has changed in the lower chamber. In the House, Republicans are in the majority. Conservatives are the majority of that majority. And the majority of those conservatives are convinced they should not be legislating on guns—even if an ideologically kindred spirit like Toomey has provided them political cover to do so.”

The Washington’s Greg Sargent writes, “In a few days, on April 16th, Boehner and Nancy Pelosi will be presiding over a ceremony dedicating the creation of the Gabriel Zimmerman Meeting Room in the U.S. Capitol, according to an invitation to the event that’s making the rounds. Zimmerman was the community outreach director to Giffords when he was killed in the January 2011 shooting in Arizona that almost claimed Giffords’ life.”

Politico: “Marco Rubio is preparing to go all in to support sweeping immigration legislation, offering himself up as the public face of a bill that will split the Republican Party — but that his allies hope will propel him to the front of the GOP presidential sweepstakes. After offering lukewarm support until now, Rubio is preparing to fully embrace a measure that is the most significant of his political career so far. The gambit could pay off in spades by crowning a leading presidential contender in 2016, or it could permanently damage the Republican’s brand with conservatives. Rubio is planning a media blitz to promote the bill — which is expected to be released early next week — making the rounds on all of the Sunday political talk shows starting this weekend, wooing skeptical conservative radio hosts and pitching the plan to Spanish-language news outlets.”

Rubio will be David Gregory’s guest this Sunday on Meet the Press.

Part of the challenge Rubio faces: “A pocket of conservatives is lashing out privately and publicly against broad immigration reform and could seriously complicate any momentum for a House deal,” Politico notes. “The blowback began in earnest Wednesday afternoon on Capitol Hill, where a meeting of the Republican Study Committee turned into a group gripe about the direction in which a bipartisan House group of immigration negotiators is heading. Iowa Rep. Steve King spoke out against the speed with which Republicans are changing their tone on long-held positions on immigration policy.”

As one of us wrote earlier this week: “On immigration, Rubio faces a tricky test in the next few months. He is helping to shepherd comprehensive legislation through Congress with a principal task of selling it to conservatives, especially when it comes to a path for citizenship for immigrants in the United States illegally. Many conservatives, especially in the House and in the grassroots rank and file, are staunchly opposed to a path for citizenship. Four-in-five Hispanics, on the other hand, are in favor of one. So, as Rubio tries to make the sell to conservatives and get something through they can support, he’s also going to have to convince Latinos, who are closely watching the immigration debate, that what he pushes for will be strong enough.”

How diplomatic… McCain on saber-rattling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on FOX, per Politico: “This guy [Kim] is a clown. He’s a fool, so was his father and so was his grandfather.”

If North Korea launches a missile, he said, “I would take it out. We show young Kim Jong Un that we can take out his capabilities. We can show that to him.”

National Journal on Pat Toomey’s (R-PA) evolution: “For Toomey, however, the deal-making was hardly unusual. He has diligently and delicately fashioned a reputation as a moderate Republican since running for the Senate in 2009 (he took office in 2011), frequently breaking from conservative orthodoxy on issues such as gay rights and Supreme Court nominations. As a member of the so-called super committee, he even outlined a plan to raise revenue as part of a larger budget deal. That Toomey, of all people, would take such frequent detours toward moderation would have shocked his former opponents, especially those in the GOP. He was the proto-conservative insurgent who nearly defeated the late Sen. Arlen Specter during a 2004 primary, and he later ran the free-market Club for Growth, the foremost antagonist of fiscally moderate Republicans. Toomey embodied the tea party not only before it was cool but before it even existed. But in office, Toomey has let Senate Republican colleagues such as Ted Cruz and Mike Lee carry that banner while taking on a different role.”