Efforts to expand background checks on gun purchasers appear to be gaining steam after the announcement yesterday of a compromise plan brokered by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).
Manchin and Toomey held a press conference yesterday morning to introduce the plan, which will be offered as an amendment to the flagship gun control bill introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). A popular interpretation is that this milestone agreement gives background checks a fighting chance in the Senate. And Toomey’s clout could help bring a few Republicans in the House around, too. The last exchange at the press conference was illuminating:
Reporter: Senator Toomey have you reached out to any House Republicans or some of the Republicans in the Philadelphia suburbs or the [indistinct] valley about supporting this Amendment?
Toomey: I have had several conversations with some of our House colleagues and I know that there are a substantial number of House Republicans that are supportive of this general approach. Of course, they want to look at the specifics of the legislation but there are definitely Republicans in the House who support this.
Although they can probably expect one, House members are not guaranteed the chance to debate whatever gun legislation the Senate passes. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declined to promise a vote on any Senate measure in an exchange with reporters less than an hour before the press conference:
As I’ve made clear, any bill that passes the Senate, we’re going to review it. In the meantime, we’re going to continue to have hearings looking at the source of violence in our country. We’re going to wait and see what actually passes over in the Senate.
For their part, House Democratic leaders have yet to begin whipping votes. A Democratic staffer familiar with the matter told me they are “in a holding pattern.”
However, the caucus is making its own moves. The House Democrats’ task force to prevent gun violence is optimistic that an expansion of background checks can pass, pointing to bipartisan interest. Peter King of New York, the most prominent House Republican to declare support for expanded checks, joined task force chair Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) to release a statement praising Manchin and Toomey’s compromise, noting that they would pursue similar bipartisan legislation:
Moving forward we will continue working with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle here in the House, and plan on introducing similar legislation to require comprehensive and enforceable background checks on all gun sales with reasonable family and friends exceptions.
Another staffer with knowledge of that pair’s plans says he expects them to introduce their own measure to expand background checks “within the next few weeks,” probably before the next recess, but qualified that he cannot be completely sure given how unpredictable the House has been.