Although a group of Senate Republicans threatened to shut down debate on gun control with a filibuster, it now appears that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has the votes to bring the bill to the floor, which he plans to do tomorrow.
Though passage of a measure to expand background checks is far from a done deal, the revelation that enough Senate Republicans were in favor of debating the issue was considered a big win for gun control supporters, who were fearful that a group of 14 Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, were going to prevent the measure from even reaching the floor for a vote.
The bill would increase penalties for illegal gun purchases and greatly expand background checks on gun buyers. Under the Byzantine rules of the Senate, the bill would again need 60 votes to end the ensuing debate after the consideration of contentious amendments, including a renewal of the assault weapons ban. After debate ended, the bill would need 51 votes for passage. Democrats control 55 seats, but there is still wavering by Democrats from more conservative states who face re-election next year.
Senators Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, and Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, are still trying to pursue their own separate deal that could use an amendment to replace the background check section of the measure. Their measure would almost certainly appeal to a broader base of members than the one currently at the heart of the debate because it would include fewer gun buyers in newly expanded checks, but allow for the record-keeping that many Republicans have opposed. Manchin and Toomey were expected to announce a deal Wednesday.
“We’re moving forward on this bill,” Reid said, even invoking his own father’s suicide by gunshot to implore consideration of the legislation. “The American people deserve a vote on this legislation.”
Republicans Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said they would support allowing the legislation to reach the floor.
“There’s not very much ambivalence on Capitol Hill about the gun issue,” Isakson said. “You’re on one side or the other, so there’s no reason not to go ahead and vote.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said a filibuster was “incomprehensible.”
“As long as we get amendments, no, I want to proceed to the bill,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) when asked about a filibuster. “I think we should be allowed to amend it. I’m not afraid of this debate, I welcome this debate.”
The exchange occurred as the families of those killed in Newtown, Conn., four months ago fan out across the Senate to lobby lawmakers to expand background checks for gun buyers and limit the size of magazines.
“I think we bring a face to this tragedy,” Mark Barden, whose son Daniel was among the 20 children killed at Newtown, told reporters.
The parents didn’t want to disclose whom they had met with, but several Senate Democrats said it was largely members from their party.
“We’re encouraged and arranged meetings, whenever possible, with Republicans and Democrats,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. “Some of my colleagues were more welcoming than others.”
To help push matters along, President Obama reportedly spent Tuesday calling senators to lobby them on the gun measures, a White House official confirmed. The official did not reveal which senators received calls.