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Behind Obama's "deserve a vote" strategy to push Congress on gun curbs

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Updated: February 14, 2013 2:29AM

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's Chicago visit on Friday will take place at the Hyde Park Academy -- a few minutes drive from his Kenwood home and the park where Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed on Jan. 29.

White House officials are designing the post-State of the Union event at the school, 6220 S. Stony Island, mainly (from their perspective) to help him sell his education, investment and business plans to hoist the poor into the middle class.

The overwhelming interest in Chicago, however, is what Obama is going to say about curbing gun violence and the soaring murder rate in his city.

Putting the event at a school in Obama's community and coming after his emotional appeal to Congress on Tuesday to vote on his gun proposals -- while first lady Michelle, who attended Hadiya's funeral in Chicago, sat next to her parents at the State of the Union -- all adds intensity to Obama's Friday visit.

Obama himself helped set the stage for this homecoming in the most memorable part of his State of the Union address. He talked about 15-year-old Hadiya, who was marking his inauguration in Washington on Jan. 21. "A week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house," the president said.

With that, Obama repeated several times a refrain that the Pendletons and others with lives changed forever by gun violence "deserve a vote" on his measures to help stop the bloodshed. Obama told the lawmakers to vote no if they want, but allow a "simple vote."

Well, nothing is quite that simple when it comes to the House and Senate. Here's what's behind the Obama "deserve a vote" strategy.

In Congress, a piece of legislation does not automatically "deserve" a vote. Most bills filed by members never get close to a vote in a committee, much less make it to the floor.

Representatives and senators through the decades have concocted all sorts of arcane rules to sidetrack and bury legislation. No major piece of legislation moves without the blessings of the House or Senate leadership. No bill automatically "deserves a vote."

Obama, aiming mainly at the GOP-controlled House, is trying to go over the heads of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his leadership team to build pressure for a vote. Most people don't follow the inner workings of Congress, so Obama seems incredibly reasonable in asking for a mere vote, when in fact what he wants is the exception, not the rule.

Obama's team knows that some gun measures have a chance of passing if there is an up or down vote, because they would need just a few dozen Republicans to add to an overwhemingly Democratic roll call.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) expects his panel to agree on legislation by early March. Leahy and Senate leaders have not decided yet if the major proposals -- universal background checks, a ban on high-capacity clips, a crackdown on trafficking and some version of an assault weapon ban -- have a better chance of passage if combined in a single bill or exist as stand-alone legislative pieces.

By Wednesday morning, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- the House Democratic political shop, with an eye at the 2014 mid-term elections -- had already cranked up its #TheyDeserveAVote campaign.

Boehner said again on Wednesday that the House will wait for the Democratic-run Senate to act first. "If the Senate acts, we'll be happy to take a look at what they do," he said.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on February 14, 2013 7:19 AM.

President Obama official schedule and guidance, Feb. 14, 2013. Decatur, Ga., Google+Hangout was the previous entry in this blog.

Rahm Emanuel's Feb. 14, 2013. In Washington, D.C. is the next entry in this blog.

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