A press representative tells TAS that Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) “has not been in contact with Vice President Biden,” about the background check compromise he opposed earlier this year. “He is not reevaluating his stance” on background checks, Flake’s spokesman added. Biden told the U.S. Conference of Mayors Friday that at least five senators who opposed the Manchin-Toomey compromise have contacted him to express interest in changing their votes.
Flake was an obvious suspect. Fellow Arizonan John McCain was among four Republican senators who supported the measure. Former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly pressured Flake before and immediately after the vote. The couple became leading national voices for gun control after Giffords survived an assassin’s bullet to the skull in 2011. Flake’s approval rating sank after his decision, leading him to quip that, “Given the public’s dim view of Congress in general, that probably puts me somewhere just below pond scum.” Evidently, this didn’t translate into a shift on background checks.
Four other potential swing votes are Manchin-Toomey’s Democratic opponents: Max Baucus (Mont.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), and Mark Pryor (Ark.). (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) voted against the measure so he could shelve it for possible reconsideration as a member of the winning side.) The week after voting no, Baucus announced plans to retire. And as this video discussion on Politico explains, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ad campaign to goad these four senators has arguably backfired. Pryor bragged about not reporting to Michael Bloomberg or Barack Obama in his first ad after voting no. He faces a particularly tough reelection in the Razorback State. Red- and swing-state Democrats up for reelection have great incentive to differentiate themselves from a progressive firebrand who bans sugary drinks.
Two weeks ago I asked Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) if he had an update on background checks, to which he replied, “Nope, still working on it.” The effort to build a 60-vote coalition quietly continues. Today a Manchin spokesman refused to comment on Vice President Biden’s statement, adding that the senator has been keeping his background check appeals “between members.” This means Manchin’s staff does not know whom he has spoken with. “You can say Senator Manchin continues to talk to his colleagues.”
With Flake out of the running, at least for the foreseeable future, Baucus retiring, and Pryor glancing nervously over his right flank, it is hard to pick out five or more senators who would conceivably reverse themselves in favor of background checks. Like Flake, Manchin-Toomey opponents Begich, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) saw their poll numbers drop. Portman is a presidential dark horse, however, and may be unwilling to risk his conservative credentials. Even if he is, the path forward for gun control remains opaque in the Senate, to say nothing of the rowdy, Republican-majority House.