By Reid Pillifant
The House Judiciary Committee has yet to hold a hearing on guns, but new representative Hakeem Jeffries is cautiously optimistic about the prospect of getting a background check bill through Congress.
"I think that if the background check agreement [negotiated in] the Senate, which isn't perfect, but is a significant step in the right direction, comes out of the Senate and lands in the House, it will ultimately be passed into law," said Jeffries, a freshman member of the Judiciary Committee, at a roundtable with local press at his district office in Fort Greene.
Jeffries represents a part of Brooklyn that disproportionately deals with gun violence, and his estimation of the deal, which was negotiated last week by senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey last week, puts him in rough agreement with Sen. Chuck Schumer and Mayor Michael Bloomberg that the expanded checks would have a substantial impact.
(Gov. Andrew Cuomo took a more dim view, saying the proposals being debated in Congress would be barely better than nothing.)
The Senate began debate on the bill this afternoon, with Schumer (who was featured in a smiling 8x10 in Jeffries' office) trying to round up enough Republican votes to make it palatable in the House.
Jeffries said the National Rifle Association's contention that criminals would avoid the law "factually inaccurate," citing the 1.9 million people who've been denied since the Brady Bill went into effect.
"Even though the existing provision has been successful approximately 2 million times over the last 19 years, you still have this gaping loophole that allows for a significant amount of guns to be sold without a background check," he said. "It's almost as if there are two lines to get into the airport. One requires you to go through a security and the other, parallel line allows you to go right through with a gun, regardless of what your background might be.
"That's why many of us believe that a strengthened background check system such as the one being contemplated in the Senate, while not perfect, is a significant step in the right direction," he said.
Jeffries was less sanguine about President Obama's proposal to reform entitlements by tying the cost of living adjustments to inflation, commonly known as "chained CPI."
Jeffries said he wasn't surprised the president proposed it, given that he mentioned that chained CPI should be a part of any grand bargain when he spoke about the subject last year.
"The president also made the observation in December that chained CPI is not something that many in the Democratic Party support," he said. "So I'm not breaking any news by saying I'm very troubled by the chained CPI provision, and the impact it may have on the seniors I represent and folks all across the country."
He said "strategically, it makes some sense" to present a budget that includes reforms Republicans have already agreed to, but that he's "not convinced" it's the best way to deal with Social Security.
But Jeffries, who was elected in a heavily African-American district where the president polls extremely well, didn't go too far in criticizing the president.
"Well, the overall budget presented by the president is a tremendous one," he said.