By Alexander Bolton - 04/08/13 10:19 PM EDT
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has announced he will block the gun-control legislation Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wants to bring to the Senate floor.
“Sen. McConnell opposes the Reid bill [S. 649],” said Don Stewart, McConnell’s spokesman. “While nobody knows yet what Sen. Reid’s plan is for the gun bill, if he chooses to file cloture on the motion to proceed to the Reid bill, Sen. McConnell will oppose cloture on proceeding to that bill.”
Reid said before the Easter recess that he would advance legislation passed by the Judiciary Committee last month to expand background checks, crack down on the trafficking of firearms and improve school safety.
The centerpiece of the legislation — and President Obama’s gun-control agenda — is an expansion of background checks, which Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the Senate Democrats' political guru, called the “sweet spot” of any legislation to increase regulation of guns.
The background-checks legislation passed by Judiciary, however, was a placeholder bill designed to give Schumer more time to negotiate a deal with Republicans. Not a single Republican on the committee voted for the legislation.
The measures to crack down on trafficking and promote school safety received bipartisan support.
The problem for Democrats is that Schumer has yet to hammer out a bipartisan deal to expand background checks. Talks with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) foundered last month and now Schumer and his partner, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are scrambling to woo other potential Republican allies.
It appears McConnell does not want to let Reid bring the gun bill to the floor until he knows there’s a bipartisan deal on background checks.
Negotiations appeared to hit a wall before the Easter recess, when senators left town without an agreement in sight.
They received a boost in recent days when Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) revealed he is working with Manchin to find common ground.
Toomey has an A rating from the National Rifle Association, as does Manchin, and his support would provide political cover for other Republicans and centrist Democrats to vote for expanded background checks.
A person familiar with the talks said Manchin and Toomey are discussing an expansion of background checks to cover all sales between private individuals that occur at gun shows or through other commercial venues, such as ArmsList.com.
The proposed compromise would require record keeping to prove background checks occurred in connection with these transactions. Transactions between friends without the help of a commercial intermediary would be exempted, said the source.
Coburn, meanwhile, is pushing a proposal to expand background checks that would not require records to prove they took place, according to the source.
Without an agreement on background checks, Reid will have a very difficult time rounding up the 60 votes he needs to start the floor debate.
Reid on Monday urged Republicans not to filibuster a motion to begin considering the bill.
“Let us have a debate on violence in America,” Reid said Monday. “Many Senate Republicans seem afraid to even engage in this debate — shame on them.
“The least Republicans owe the parents of 20 children murdered with guns at Sandy Hook Elementary is a thoughtful debate about whether stronger gun laws could have saved their little babies. The least Republicans owe them is a vote," he said