Let the gun debate begin.
The Senate accrued the 60 votes needed to kick off debate on gun control legislation authored by the Democrats, despite a group of Republicans who had threatened a filibuster.
The upper chamber of Congress voted 68-31 in support of the “motion to proceed.” Notably, two Democrats voted “nay,” including Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska. Both, in reliably-red states, are up for re-election in 2014.
Sixteen Republicans voted in favor of the motion, including Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Dean Heller of Nevada, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Bob Corker of Tennessee, and John Hoeven of North Dakota.
The bill, which would expand background checks and beef up penalties against illegal firearms, was taken up by the Senate following the Dec. 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. It also comes a day after Sens. Joe Manchin and Patrick Toomey unveiled a bipartisan compromise to extend background checks to gun shows and online sales. Their plan is expected to be added as an amendment to the gun legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that he’s grateful for the Republicans who voted in favor of debate, but added “The hard works starts now.”
So what happens next? There’s still a rough road ahead. Thursday’s vote was merely procedural. Now, lawmakers can focus on debating the legislation, which could take weeks—if not months. There’s likely to be several amendments, and even though the debate vote passed the Senate, approval from the GOP-led House remains uncertain.
House Speaker John Boehner said on Wednesday that he wants to “wait and see what actually passes in the Senate. I’ve made it clear: If the Senate passes a bill, the House will review it.”
President Obama, who has been pushing for universal background checks and an assault weapons ban, has applauded the Manchin-Toomey compromise but admitted “there are aspects of the agreement that I might prefer to be stronger.” But, the commander-in-chief said the agreement “does represent welcome and significant bipartisan progress.”