- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pushing back against the Obama administration’s call for stricter gun control laws, Republican Sens. Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Ted Cruz are threatening to block any legislation they think tramples on the Second Amendment - marking the latest salvo from a trio of lawmakers who have been busy banding together to assert their vision on the direction of their party.

The tea party favorites warned Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that they will hold up any bill that serves “as a vehicle for any additional gun restrictions” when the body returns from its two-week spring break.

“The Second Amendment to the Constitution protects citizens’ right to self-defense,” they told the Nevada Democrat in a letter that was released Tuesday. “It speaks to history’s lesson that government cannot be in all places at all times, and history’s warning about the oppression of a government that tries.”

The letter aims to pre-empt Mr. Reid’s plan for the Senate to consider a comprehensive gun package after the Easter break. The bill would try to crack down on gun trafficking and include a requirement for universal background checks on gun sales. An assault-weapons ban is not a part of the package, although it could be brought up by an amendment.

The White House said the senators’ plan is “unfortunate” and that the lawmakers threatening a filibuster are out of step with the vast majority of Americans. The Obama administration has consistently said that nothing the president is advocating infringes on citizens’ Second Amendment rights.

“A vote ought to be held on all these elements,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney. “It is what the victims of gun violence deserve. I don’t think you could tell the families of those who have lost their children to gun violence that bills like this might be filibustered.”

Whatever the case, Mr. Paul, Mr. Lee and Mr. Cruz are cementing their status as rising stars in the conservative movement by being a thorn in the side of both parties.

“If you’re under the age of 40, you’ve never seen what conservatives fighting back looks like, and now you have,” said Republican consultant Mike McKenna. “Now they finally have senators who are every bit as excited to mix it up as they are.”

That point was driven home earlier this month by Mr. Paul’s 13-hour information-seeking filibuster on the CIA’s drone policy.

With Mr. Lee of Utah and Mr. Cruz of Texas firmly in his corner, the Kentucky Republican questioned whether the nation has been too willing to give up its constitutional rights in the name of the war on terrorism - a challenge that irked Democrats and earned angry rebukes on the Senate floor from Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Mr. McCain, Mr. Graham and Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire have been outspoken critics of the Obama administration’s foreign policies, particularly its handling of the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

“If Graham, Ayotte and Cruz are the defense-minded ‘Three Amigos,’ then Cruz, Paul and Lee are the tea party ‘Three Amigos,’” said Republican strategist John Feehery.

Shortly after the filibuster, Mr. Paul and Mr. Cruz filed a bill to prohibit the use of drones to kill U.S. citizens on American soil, and Mr. Lee quickly signed on as the first co-sponsor.

The three senators also were among the five Republicans to vote against a House Republican budget plan written by Rep. Paul Ryan, the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, which brought the national budget into balance in a decade but relied on the $600 billion in revenue derived from the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts on the nation’s top earners.

The next day, the three senators voted for Mr. Paul’s plan to balance the budget in five years during the Senate’s “Vote-a-rama” - putting them at odds with a good slice of their GOP colleagues, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Ms. Ayotte and Mr. McCain.

The three senators proposed a total of six amendments and voted the same way each time.

In Tuesday’s letter to Mr. Reid, Mr. Paul, Mr. Cruz and Mr. Lee said they “intend to oppose any legislation that would infringe on the American people’s constitutional right to bear arms, or their ability to exercise this right without being subjected to government surveillance.”