‘I think it’s going to be close’

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.)
Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.)
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Last week offered some drama on the Senate floor, as a bipartisan majority defied the odds and advanced legislation intended to reduce gun violence, but it was only the first in a series of key votes. The second is set for Wednesday, as a measure to expand background checks reaches the floor.

The amendment’s principle authors, Sen. Pat Toomey, a conservative Republican from Pennsylvania, and Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia, hit the Sunday shows yesterday to make their case. Asked about the bill’s prospects, Toomey told CNN, “I think it’s an open question as to whether or not we have the votes. I think it’s going to be close.”

How close? Let’s start counting heads. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) endorsed the proposal on Saturday, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said yesterday he’s “very favorably disposed” to the Manchin-Toomey compromise. The Hill has been trying to get a relatively firm head count, and reported this morning that the bill is “inching closer to 60 votes.”

There are now four Republicans who have publicly committed to supporting the amendment: Sens. Toomey, Mark Kirk (Ill.), Susan Collins (Maine) and John McCain (Ariz.).

There are a dozen other Republicans who voted for a motion to proceed on the gun control bill last week, including Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.) and Dean Heller (Nev.).

Making matters a little more interesting, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, the nation’s second largest gun-rights group, also endorsed the Manchin-Toomey bill overnight, though the group’s support is based at least in part on its belief that the compromise is so much weaker than the original Democratic plan.

And speaking of the Senate majority, it’s the judgment of conservative Democrats that will likely be the deciding factor.

This is not one of those situations in which the 55-member Democratic caucus is united, and proponents are looking for five Republicans to get to 60 and overcome GOP obstructionism. Rather, this is a fight in which proponents need several more Republicans to compensate for the fact that red-state Dems up for re-election in 2014 will almost certainly break with their party.

“We’ve got some work to do,” Mr. Manchin said in an interview Sunday. “You’ve got some very close Democratic colleagues who are having some difficulties, and our Republican colleagues are trying to get comfortable.” […]

Senator Mark Begich, Democrat of Alaska, says he will vote against the measure, and at least three other Democrats are expected to join him in trying to defeat it, including Heidi Heitkamp, a freshman senator from North Dakota. Some left-leaning Democrats may also balk because of the gun-rights provisions that have been added to the bill to entice Republicans.

To be sure, most Democrats will back the proposal and most Republicans will oppose it, but more so than on most bills, it will be a dozen or so senators who at least consider breaking ranks that decide the outcome.

Also keep an eye on Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), one of Congress’ staunchest supporters of gun-safety measures, who’s been unable to return to the Senate for health reasons. If the bill is a vote short, will Lautenberg be able to get to the floor? We don’t yet know.

In the meantime, a companion measure is nearly ready to go in the House, though if the background-check measure fails in the Senate this week, it will be a moot point.

Background Checks

'I think it's going to be close'