Speaker Boehner won't commit to House vote on gun control bill

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday refused to weigh in on the substance of a bipartisan Senate agreement to expand background checks for gun purchases, saying only that the House would “review” any legislation the Senate passes.

 “As I’ve made clear, any bill that passes the Senate, we’re going to review it,” Boehner told reporters after a meeting of the House Republican conference. “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.”

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Boehner spoke less than an hour before Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) were set to announce a deal representing the most significant breakthrough for President Obama’s months-long push for new gun-control legislation following the December massacre of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn.

The proposal from the two senators seeks to expand background checks while allowing exceptions for sales among family members and, in some cases, hunters.

The Speaker notably stopped short of promising a full House vote on any Senate legislation, and he dodged five separate questions about the issue of background checks.

“It’s one thing for members to come to some agreement,” Boehner said. “That doesn’t substitute the will of the other 98 members. We’ll wait and see what the Senate does.”

Toomey, a former House member, on Wednesday said, "I know there are substantial number of House Republicans that are supportive of this general appoach."

He added, "There are definitely Republicans in the House that support this."

The Speaker, meanwhile, made clear that previous comments he had made on the subject of background checks did not constitute his endorsement of new legislation. Instead, he voiced concern that the current background check system is not being fully enforced.

“That’s what I was suggesting,” he said. “We’re not enforcing the laws that we have on the books today, and so if we’re going to have a background check that’s in the law, let's make sure we do a real background check, which, in not all cases, actually happens.”

Any new gun restrictions are likely to face significant, if not wholesale, opposition among House Republicans. Yet if the Senate manages to pass a bipartisan bill, Boehner will come under intense pressure from Obama and congressional Democrats to allow a vote on the measure, even if it means losing a majority of his conference.

So far only a few House Republicans, including Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), have expressed support for expanded background checks, which has become the centerpiece of the gun proposals that Democrats believe has a realistic chance of passing. 

A renewed ban on assault weapons and limits on high-capacity magazines are not expected to pass the Senate.

This article was updated at 3:10 p.m.