By Bob Cusack - 04/15/13 09:00 AM EDT
A bipartisan bill on background checks is inching closer to the necessary 60 votes for passage, but it still has a long way to go.
The upcoming vote on a new proposal crafted by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) is expected to go down to the wire. The Hill on Friday contacted many Senate offices to find out their positions on the amendment, which is strongly opposed by the National Rifle Association (NRA).
There are a dozen other Republicans who voted for a motion to proceed on the gun control bill last week, including Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Roger Wicker (Miss.) and Dean Heller (Nev.).
Flake on Friday was reviewing the bill, while Heller's office said the senator "will not support any plan that creates a federal gun registry." Corker "would not support Toomey-Manchin as written but is open to supporting amendments to achieve what he believes is the central issue: preventing violence by dangerous, mentally ill people," according to a Monday statement from his office. Chambliss has made it clear that he opposes the underlying gun control bill that is headed to the Senate floor. Wicker said on C-SPAN Monday morning that he is opposed to the Manchin-Toomey amendment.
To pass Manchin-Toomey, at least five Republicans must back it. Fifty-five senators caucus with the Democrats, but not all are sure bets to embrace the background check legislation.
Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) last week voted against the motion to proceed to the gun control debate. Both are up for reelection next year and support gun rights.
Centrist Democrats who are expected to vote for Manchin-Toomey are Sens. Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Mark Warner (Va.).
But Democrats who declined to comment or didn't say definitively where they stand on Manchin-Toomey include Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Mary Landrieu (La.). Baucus and Landrieu are seeking reelection in 2014 and are top GOP targets.
Meanwhile, some Republicans who broke ranks to proceed to the gun control bill are opposed to Manchin-Toomey, such as Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Richard Burr (N.C.) and John Hoeven (N.D.).
Isakson said on MSNBC last week it is "doubtful" he will back Manchin-Toomey. Graham told the Huffington Post he is "not a big fan of background checks."
Coburn is planning to offer his own background check amendment, which could alter the political dynamics of the debate by giving on-the-fence Republicans a chance to vote for some type of background check bill.
During a Sunday appearance on CNN's "State of the Union," McCain said he is "favorably disposed" to Manchin-Toomey. On the same show, Toomey stopped short of predicting victory, saying, "I think it's going to be close." McCain's backing could have an effect on Flake, the undecided freshman senator from Arizona.
Collins told NBC News Sunday she believes the Manchin-Toomey plan, which is backed by President Obama, is "reasonable."
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on ABC's "This Week" noted that not all the Republicans who voted to debate gun control will vote "yes" on Manchin-Toomey, adding it will be a "tough fight" to get to 60 votes. Schumer has called background checks the "sweet spot" of gun control.
During an interview on "Fox News Sunday," Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he has not yet whipped Manchin-Toomey.
If Manchin-Toomey falters, it would be a huge win for the NRA and a major setback for Obama. Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) will introduce a companion bill to Manchin-Toomey in the GOP-led House, but its chances of getting to the president's desk are remote if the Senate rejects it.
Obama has also called for Congress to pass an assault-weapons ban, but that bill has no chance of passing the House and Senate.
—Noura Alfadi-Andreasson and Alex Lazar contributed to this article, which was last updated at 12:10 p.m.