For those eager to see Congress work on reducing gun violence, today was an important day.
The House passed a pair of bills Thursday morning that would expand background checks for gun purchases, which Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., vowed to put to a vote.... The House passed both gun-control bills in Feb. 2019, but the Republican majority blocked them in the Senate.
The first of the two, called the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, would require background checks on practically all firearm purchases. There are limited exceptions -- gifts from relatives, for example -- but this is the popular proposal that's been stuck in Congress for many years. It passed the Democratic-led House today, 227 to 203, with eight Republicans breaking ranks and supporting the legislation.
The other bill was designed to close the so-called "Charleston loophole." Under the status quo, if a background check isn't completed within three days, the firearm sale can proceed without it. This proposal would expand the review period to 10 days. It passed today, 219 to 210, with two GOP votes.
If these proposals seem at all familiar, it's because we've been here before: House Democrats passed them in the last Congress, too. Of course, at that point, the bills were sent to the Senate, where then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made sure the measures received no hearings, no debates, and no votes.
His successor, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said today the legislation "will be on the floor of the Senate." He added, "No more hopes and prayers, thoughts and prayers. A vote is what we need — a vote — not thoughts and prayers. And we will see where people stand, and maybe we'll get the votes."
Obviously, it's best to keep expectations low. So long as the existing filibuster rules remain intact, and proposals can't advance through the budget reconciliation process, the Senate will likely maintain its reputation as a "legislative graveyard."
But isn't there some Republican support for this very popular legislation? The short answer is yes, but it comes with caveats.
The last time the Senate voted on this was in April 2013, when a bipartisan bill to expand background checks -- considered just four months after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary -- enjoyed majority support, but not enough to overcome a Republican filibuster. They would've come close, but four red-state Democrats voted to reject the bill.
None of those four is still on Capitol Hill. In fact, the most conservative Senate Democrat, West Virginia's Joe Manchin, not only supports background checks, he also literally helped write the 2013 legislation.
As for GOP senators, four Republicans supported the bipartisan bill when it reached the floor in 2013. Eight years later, however, only two of them -- Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey and Maine's Susan Collins -- are still there.
In other words, as the bill clears the House, it heads to the upper chamber, where it appears to start with 52 votes -- enough to pass if the Senate operated by majority rule, but eight votes shy of the filibuster threshold.
For reform advocates, the path ahead is obvious: find eight more Senate Republican votes, overhaul the filibuster rules, or prepare for disappointment.