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A sudden reversal of fortunes for gun reform

Just a few days ago, proponents of measures to reduce gun violence had reason to feel discouraged. There had been little progress on finding a background-check
Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.)
Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.)

Just a few days ago, proponents of measures to reduce gun violence had reason to feel discouraged. There had been little progress on finding a background-check solution that could advance, and the only real movement was the growing number of Senate Republicans vowing to filibuster the debate at the outset. The White House was trying to apply pressure, but it was seen by the media as a sign of desperation.

This morning, conditions appear to have improved considerably.

A bipartisan group of Senate negotiators signaled Tuesday night that it has reached a deal in principle on expanding background checks to include more gun sales, in what was widely seen as the major sticking point on the biggest gun control legislation to reach the floor since 1994.Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., said they would hold a news conference at 11 a.m. Wednesday to discuss the details of the tentative deal, which was reached with the support of Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and could entice a significant number of other lawmakers to sign on. Schumer told reporters that some details still needed to be worked out but that "we're closer than we've ever been.""Tomorrow we hope to finalize it," Manchin said Tuesday night. A Toomey spokesman added, "Sens. Toomey and Manchin continue to work on final details, but they appear close to a deal."

So close, in fact, that Sens. Manchin and Toomey have scheduled an 11 a.m. press conference to announce their bipartisan agreement.

We do not yet know the specific provisions of their deal, but the Manchin/Toomey bill will reportedly close some of the existing loopholes on firearm background checks: sales at gun shows and online would require background checks under the plan, but sales between private parties would not.

It's no small development: not only were expanded background checks of any kind in doubt, but both Manchin and Toomey are conservatives with "A" ratings from the National Rifle Association. Their role in reaching an agreement lends it the bipartisan credibility reform proponents were hoping for.

Will this scuttle the GOP's planned filibuster on the motion to proceed? Probably, yes.

As Rachel noted on the show last night, there are now 10 Senate Republicans who have said they'll vote with the majority to advance the gun bill to the floor for debate. Given that number, even if a few red-state Democrats balk, there should be more than enough votes to end the filibuster. Indeed, the 10 doesn't even include Toomey, and given all the trouble he's made to work out a bipartisan deal on background checks, it's unlikely he'd kill his own bill before it even reached the floor.

And that sets the stage for an interesting day tomorrow.

Several Senate Republicans said Tuesday that they would not participate in a filibuster of the first major gun control bill since 1993, as Democrats appeared on the verge of overcoming a blockade threatened by a group of conservatives before a word of debate on the measure was uttered.Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said he would schedule an initial showdown vote for Thursday.

It's important to clarify a procedural point: tomorrow is not about voting on legislation to reduce gun violence. Rather, it's about approving the motion to proceed, which will begin the Senate's process in earnest, clearing the way for a floor debate and votes on amendments.

I emphasize this because tomorrow isn't the last hurdle; it's the first hurdle. In fact, many of the senators who vote with the majority tomorrow may very well end up opposing the final bill itself, and many of the Republicans who balk at the filibuster tomorrow are very likely to support a filibuster of the same bill before final passage. Even if there are 60+ votes tomorrow, which is now very likely, that does not guarantee that the legislation itself will ever receive an up-or-down vote in the chamber.

This is, in other words, an endurance race, and tomorrow's vote will determine whether the legislation can clear the starting blocks. Gun-reform proponents have reason to be optimistic, but only about getting the race underway.