Sen. Manchin: Blame me for gun control failure, not Obama

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Thursday said he should be blamed for the Senate’s stinging defeat of expanded background checks for gun purchases, not President Obama.

“If people want to blame, I guess you blame me,” Manchin told reporters at a Wall Street Journal breakfast. “I just never knew how hard it was to get the facts out. I think there is a lot more I can do to get the facts out.”

Manchin’s background checks bill, co-sponsored by GOP Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), earned 54 votes on Wednesday, falling short of the 60 needed for passage. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) switched his vote from yes to no in a procedural move that allows him to bring the bill up for another vote in the future.

A series of other gun control amendments also fell, likely ending for now debate on the issue in Congress.

The Manchin-Toomey bill was seen as the issue's “sweet spot," and its defeat is a bitter loss for gun control advocates. Manchin prior to this week had an A rating from the National Rifle Association, and advocates hoped his support for tougher background checks would give other members political cover.

Manchin on Thursday promised to press on for stricter gun control.

“I know everybody is pretty much worn out,” he said. “Now we need to figure out how we are going to get the 68, 70 votes I think we should have, and that’s what we are going to work on.”

Manchin could not predict when Democrats would mount another effort to pass gun control, but he said the White House needs to be careful not to push fence-sitters too hard in the coming days.

“It’s still very raw,” he said of the loss. “People hunker down, they are afraid that if they change their position they will be politically known as a flip-flopper.”

“We have got to look at maybe a different strategy,” he said. “You never want to embarrass them.” He said that the White House should use his bill as the basis for moving forward rather than seeking universal background checks that rural gun owners won’t accept.

“His universal base bill is gone. That bill’s gone,” Manchin said. He said that if Manchin-Toomey had appeared shortly after the Newtown shooting, it would have passed easily.

“If we’d gone to this bill immediately ... boom,” he said. “When they said that the Senate was the most deliberative, body in the world they weren’t kidding." The upper chamber is sometimes called the "world's greatest deliberative body."

The Manchin-Toomey language would have expanded background checks to cover all firearms sales at gun shows and over the Internet. It would have required licensed gun dealers to conduct the checks and keep records of those transactions. It exempts sales and transfers between friends and acquaintances outside of a commercial or online venue, and explicitly prohibited the use of records to create a gun registry. 

Manchin said that it is “reasonable” to conclude that some conservative Democrats felt themselves stretched too thin and lacked “energy” to sell rapid changes in their positions on gay marriage, immigration and guns at the same time.

Four Democrats voted against his amendment, while four Republicans supported it.

Manchin said Obama would not be tarnished by the bill’s defeat, arguing he was not that involved — despite weeks of campaign-style speeches by the president to bolster support for gun control. “This was not coordinated,” he said about the bill’s drafting. “I had no conversations with the president or administration on this issue.”

“This was not the president’s bill,” he said.

Manchin said that if he loses reelection in 2018 due to NRA opposition, he is prepared for it. “I have to live with whatever happens, and people will make their decisions based on that,” he said. He said that if he loses, he will get to spend more time with his family.

“I can’t figure out why in the hell when the facts are right in front of you, you don’t do what you’ve got to do,” he said.

Manchin stopped short of accusing the gun lobby of willfully lying about the bill, something Obama did in a White House appearance on Wednesday.

He said the NRA's argument that the bill would affect family gun sales was “hanging by one thread.” “If you have a loving relationship with your family member and your friend and you have to sell [a gun] through the Internet then you better check that relationship,” he said.

The senator said that the he still backs Senate rules that make it nearly impossible to move legislation without a 60-vote supermajority, despite the fact his bill would have succeeded on a simple majority vote.

“I am still pretty protective of the 60 rule, not just because Sen. Byrd was pretty protective of it,” he said referring to his mentor, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who was famously expert on Senate procedure. Rather than changing the rules, he said he would now seek to get more gun show owners and NRA members to read his bill and understand that it does not violate their Second Amendment rights.

He said that if the NRA can be convinced not to score his bill, it would get 70 votes immediately. Emotionally, Manchin said that Thursday he “could hardly speak” when asked about the reaction of the Newtown families to the vote.

“If we had one ounce of their courage ... we could move the whole world. We really could,” he said.