Reid plows ahead on gun control legislation

Democrats are confident they have the votes to bring gun control legislation to the Senate floor this week. But getting the votes to pass the bill later this month will be much harder.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidHarry Reid: Early voting states Iowa, New Hampshire 'not representative of the country anymore' The Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary Bottom Line MORE (D-Nev.) has not yet conducted a formal whip count, but at least eight Republican senators have said they will not attempt to block an effort to bring up the measure, a senior Democratic aide said.


Fifty-five senators caucus with the Democrats, and Reid acknowledged he might lose a few votes on his side of the aisle. During his weekly press conference Tuesday, Reid declined to make any bold predictions. Asked if he had the votes, Reid responded, “I don’t know.”

Behind the scenes, Reid and his lieutenants are convinced they have the 60 votes necessary to start the debate on the floor.

“He’s always been confident that he can get 60 votes,” the aide said.

The staffer noted statements by Republican Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainConservative group cuts ties with Michelle Malkin Democratic debate at Tyler Perry's could miss the mark with black voters Donald Trump's 2020 election economic gamble MORE (Ariz.), Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE (Nev.), Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonVeterans face growing threat from online disinformation Eleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid Juan Williams: Republicans flee Trump MORE (Ga.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamMcConnell hopes Senate impeachment trial 'not too lengthy a process' Hillicon Valley: Progressives oppose funding bill over surveillance authority | Senators call for 5G security coordinator | Facebook gets questions over location tracking | Louisiana hit by ransomware attack Prisons chief: FBI investigating whether 'criminal enterprise' played role in Epstein death MORE (S.C.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret Collins2020 Republicans accuse Schumer of snubbing legislation Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock Feehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds MORE (Maine), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Mark KirkMark Steven KirkWhy Republicans are afraid to call a key witness in the impeachment inquiry Ex-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR Bottom Line MORE (Ill.) and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteGOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (N.H.) indicating they would not support a filibuster of moving to the gun bill.

“It’s my understanding that amendments will be allowed to the bill, which is very important, since there are portions of the bill I do not support,” the centrist Collins told reporters on Tuesday. 

“My hope is that we can have a full and open debate with amendments. And if that occurs, then I will certainly vote to proceed to the bill,” she added.

President Obama called Republican and Democratic senators Tuesday afternoon to build support for the legislation, said a White House official. The president was expected to reach out to between a half-dozen and dozen senators.

Reid filed a motion Tuesday evening, setting up a vote Thursday to proceed to the legislation. The Senate is expected to begin voting on amendments next week. 

The Nevada Democrat on Tuesday twice invoked comments on gun control made by former Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.), host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program.

“Republicans are planning to filibuster a 92 percent issue … something that involves the massacre of 20 first-grade children,” Scarborough said Tuesday. “Is anyone awake in my party on the Hill?”

“We’re going to find out [the answer to that question],” Reid said.

Polls show 9 in 10 voters support expanded background checks.  

Those numbers have emboldened gun control advocacy groups that say Democrats should not negotiate with Republicans to water down the portion of the legislation expanding background checks.

Instead, the groups say Democrats should hold their ground and force Republicans to vote on the language drafted by Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis Schumer2020 Republicans accuse Schumer of snubbing legislation Schumer: Leadership trying to work out competing surprise medical bill measures Top GOP senator: Drug pricing action unlikely before end of year MORE (D-N.Y.), currently in the bill, which would dramatically expand background checks and require record-keeping to accompany them.

“If we can break the filibuster with the Schumer language, that changes the whole dynamic of the negotiations,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “I say let’s go vote on it because I don’t think they can vote no on it. I think it’s a very, very difficult vote for people to vote no.”

Despite that optimism, many pundits believe comprehensive gun control is in major trouble. Last month, Democrats essentially threw in the towel on reinstating an assault weapons ban.

Schumer’s background-check language was included in the gun violence legislation passed by the Judiciary Committee as a placeholder to give Schumer and Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPolitical purity tests are for losers Former coal exec Don Blankenship launches third-party presidential bid Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda MORE (D-W.Va.) more time to negotiate a bipartisan agreement on background checks.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: GOP senator says drug price action unlikely this year | House panel weighs ban on flavored e-cigs | New York sues Juul McConnell hopes Senate impeachment trial 'not too lengthy a process' Former Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled MORE (Ky.) on Tuesday said he would filibuster the bill reported by the Judiciary Committee because the background-check language did not receive a single Republican vote during the markup. But a wave of Republican defections in recent days shows that Reid can bring it up for debate despite McConnell’s objection.

Gun control groups predict McConnell will have a similarly difficult time holding his ranks to prevent the stronger version of expanded background checks from receiving an up-or-down vote.

“We want an up-or-down [vote] on the strongest bill we can get, and Schumer is that bill right now. We think that background-check bill is so popular it will pass,” Horwitz said.

Manchin, who has an A rating from the National Rifle Association, has been negotiating with Toomey in recent days to craft bipartisan language to expand background checks. They still had not reached an agreement as of Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re still working,” Manchin said.

Democrats, however, have begun to lose patience with the Republican negotiators.

“We think it’s time to move forward,” a senior Democratic aide said.

Obama has repeatedly pressed lawmakers by saying that the families of those shot in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., deserve votes on gun control measures. Obama made his case again Monday at a speech in nearby Hartford.

The president returned to Washington with some of the family members aboard Air Force One. The Connecticut families will lobby lawmakers in the days ahead to support the gun package.

Reid said he is not lobbying his Democratic colleagues, a handful of whom face tough reelection races in red states.

 “I have not leaned on any of my Democratic senators. I try never to do that,” Reid said. “I don’t get all the Democrats all the time, and that’s for sure.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusBottom line Overnight Defense: McCain honored in Capitol ceremony | Mattis extends border deployment | Trump to embark on four-country trip after midterms Congress gives McCain the highest honor MORE (D-Mont.) said he remains undecided about whether to support the motion to proceed.

“My primary focus is the state of Montana. They’re my employers. I’m just the employee. I’m the hired hand here. I care much more about Montana,” said Baucus, who is up for reelection in 2014 and voted against the Democratic budget last month.

Montana is one of the most pro-gun states in the country. One local group supporting gun owners’ rights estimated that families in the state own on average more than 20 firearms.

The senior Democratic aide said as many as 10 Republicans could vote for the motion to move to the gun bill, making Baucus’s vote less important.

“If we have 10 or more Republicans, it gives us some wiggle room,” the aide said.

— Bernie Becker, Jonathan Easley and Amie Parnes contributed to this report.