State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, a pro-gun-rights Democratic candidate in New Jersey's Second Congressional District, won't have to cast votes on six pending gun-control bills until after the June primary.
According to a vote schedule released Monday by the office of Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a fellow Democrat from Gloucester County, the six bills passed last month by the Assembly will be brought before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, but a full vote won't happen until the Senate reconvenes June 7, two days after the New Jersey primary.
Van Drew's 100 percent NRA rating has become a subject of criticism among his Democratic primary opponents and progressive groups in the district, which includes much of southernmost New Jersey, including the cities of Vineland and Atlantic City and parts of eight counties. It has been represented for 24 years by retiring U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo and is considered a key district likely to flip from Republican to Democrat. Van Drew is not on the Judiciary committee.
Will Cunningham, a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Cory Booker who also is running in the primary, accused Sweeney of blocking the legislation from reaching the Senate floor, "likely in a ploy to protect Second District congressional candidate Jeff Van Drew from being forced to take a vote and reveal his pro-gun, pro-NRA ties."
Sweeney spokesman Richard McGrath dismissed Cunningham's accusation as "part of a campaign debate, which the Senate president will not participate in."
"We are following the legislative process and the Senate schedule," McGrath said, via e-mail.
Van Drew, a dentist, has received the support of the national campaign arm of the House Democrats, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and is considered a popular moderate with the ability to flip the seat. He has the support of all eight county Democratic parties and the party establishment in New Jersey, including South Jersey power broker George E. Norcross III, who endorsed him before he even declared his candidacy.
In a recent appearance on WOND, an Atlantic County-based talk-radio station, Van Drew said he would vote in favor of one of the bills, to expand background checks to include private gun sales, and declined to say how he would vote on the rest. They include establishing a new class of protective court order that would bar people who pose "a significant danger" from possessing or purchasing firearms, and lowering the limit for magazine rounds from 15 to 10, with an exception for a .22-caliber firearm. Another bill would further tighten the state's concealed carry law.
Van Drew's chief of staff did not respond to a message seeking comment on the senator's position on the gun bills.
Shortly after the Parkland school shootings, Van Drew was confronted by 17-year-old Emily McGrath of Egg Harbor Township over his accepting donations from the NRA in the past. He has said that he returned past NRA donations and would not accept them in the future.
Supporters of his more progressive opponents, who include Cunningham and Tanzie Youngblood, a retired schoolteacher who was featured on Time magazine's "Avengers" cover, have urged voters to reject Van Drew's candidacy. Another candidate, Sean Thom, who dropped out of the race, had complained to the DCCC about supporting Van Drew.
Youngblood, an African American woman who has unsuccessfully sought an endorsement from the women's group EMILY's List and was critical of the DCCC's backing of Van Drew, opened a campaign office in Pleasantville over the weekend and received the "Gun Sense Candidate" distinction from Moms Demand Action.
"The entire state Senate of New Jersey is stalling on passing critical gun control legislation because the Jersey political machine wants to protect their NRA A-rated candidate, Van Drew," Cunningham said in a statement.
The Assembly vote took place March 26, two days after the March for Our Lives brought hundreds of thousands of people to Washington and other cities around the country demanding gun control laws. "The Senate president supports the bills and will have the Senate act on them soon," McGrath said in an earlier message.