Gun bill gets a big boost from Toomey

Gun bill gets a big boost from Toomey

Gun control legislation received a surprising jolt of momentum on Wednesday when a conservative Republican unveiled a bipartisan proposal on background checks. 

President Obama hailed the agreement, crafted by Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Senate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats Labor head warns of 'frightening uptick' in black lung disease among miners MORE (D-W.Va.), as a sign of “welcome and significant bipartisan progress.” The National Rifle Association (NRA) quickly denounced the bill.

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News of the Manchin-Toomey plan reverberated on Capitol Hill, eclipsing the release of Obama’s budget and effectively delaying the release of a bipartisan immigration proposal. At his weekly press conference, Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Trump adviser expected to leave White House, join Juul The Hill's 12:30 Report: McGahn inflames Dem divisions on impeachment MORE (R-Ohio) stopped short of promising a full House vote on any Senate legislation, and he dodged five separate questions on background checks.

Toomey’s decision represented a dramatic step for gun control, especially because he has an A rating from the NRA and formerly headed the conservative Club for Growth. It also revived the issue, which had lost considerable steam over the last month.

To pass a background-check bill, however, Democrats will need others in the Senate GOP to follow Toomey’s lead. That hasn’t happened yet.

“While all of us like and respect Sen. Toomey, there wasn’t an outpouring of support for his amendment,” Senate Minority Whip John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Bipartisan House bill calls for strategy to protect 5G networks from foreign threats Collins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' MORE (R-Texas) told The Hill following the chamber’s GOP Steering Committee lunch on Wednesday. Republicans had planned to discuss immigration, but guns dominated the strategy session.


Several GOP lawmakers remain skeptical that Toomey’s endorsement would bring more votes.

“People that originally wanted to vote for gun legislation, he gives a great deal of prestige to them,” Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyTrump-Pelosi fight threatens drug pricing talks Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Senators unveil sweeping bipartisan health care package | House lawmakers float Medicare pricing reforms | Dems offer bill to guarantee abortion access Bipartisan senators reveal sweeping health care package MORE (R-Iowa) said. “For people that aren’t for any more background checks or any more infringement on the Second Amendment, it doesn’t make any difference.”

For the moment, the only Senate Republican who is sure to vote for Manchin-Toomey is Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkEx-GOP Sen. Kirk registers to lobby The global reality behind 'local' problems Dems vow swift action on gun reform next year MORE (Ill.), who has an F rating from the NRA.

Toomey said his new bill with Manchin does not represent “gun control,” adding he has long been a supporter of gun rights and owns a firearm.

Yet, he indicated he was concerned that whole legislative effort was in jeopardy, so he decided to enter into discussions with Manchin, a centrist Democrat who also has an A rating from the NRA.

Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerNo agreement on budget caps in sight ahead of Memorial Day recess Ex-White House photographer roasts Trump: 'This is what a cover up looked like' under Obama Pelosi: Trump 'is engaged in a cover-up' MORE has been working closely with Manchin to find a GOP co-sponsor, but the New York Democrat did not attend Wednesday’s packed press conference. Various media accounts reported that Toomey didn’t want Schumer there. Schumer’s office declined to comment.

The bipartisan accord failed to win over Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Worries grow about political violence as midterms approach President Trump’s war on federal waste American patients face too many hurdles in regard to health-care access MORE (R-Okla.), who was in talks with Schumer on background checks before he backed away earlier this year.

“The Manchin-Toomey proposal is a good faith, but unworkable plan,” Coburn said in a statement. He cited new taxes, “unreasonable burdens on law-abiding citizens,” a “government takeover of gun shows” and its record-keeping requirement as reasons he opposed the bill.

Coburn said he intended to offer his own amendment “based on many previously agreed to bipartisan reforms gun control advocates abandoned.”

Some see politics at play for Toomey, who is up for reelection in 2016 in a state that hasn’t supported a GOP president since 1988.

Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThreat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Senate Democrats request watchdog, Red Cross probe DHS detention facilities Iraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran MORE (D-Ill.) told reporters that Toomey’s support gives other Republicans political cover to back the bill. Perhaps just as importantly, it could help Durbin convince red-state Democrats up for reelection in 2014 to vote “yes.”

Toomey says he has talked to senators on both sides of the aisle about his new proposal, but he declined to speak for them. He did say his plan has attracted preliminary support from House Republicans.

“I know there are a substantial number of House Republicans that are supportive of this general approach,” said Toomey, a former House member. “There are definitely Republicans in the House that support this.”

Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) announced Wednesday they would be joining forces for the House version of the background-check bill.

Multiple Republicans in the Pennsylvania delegation voiced support for the measure.

“I applaud Sen. Pat Toomey for bringing some Pennsylvania commonsense to the issue of background checks for firearm purchases,” centrist Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) said. 

King said he had spoken with a number of GOP colleagues — mainly from the Northeast — who are open to the bill.

Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteTop Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview It’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute DOJ opinion will help protect kids from dangers of online gambling MORE (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, declined comment and said he had not spoken to Toomey.

“Pat was very popular over here,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said. “He was head of the [Republican Study Committee], did a lot of activity over the years with Club for Growth, so if it’s something he can sign on to, people are going to look at it and say, ‘Lets at least take a look.’”

Cole, a deputy whip, called the proposal a “step in the right direction,” but said he didn’t know if he would ultimately support it.

Republicans in both chambers will feel pressure from gun rights groups. The NRA is lobbying against the Manchin-Toomey proposal, and Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham warned lawmakers not to back the legislation.

“We expect this type of deal-making from Joe Manchin and also from Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerNo agreement on budget caps in sight ahead of Memorial Day recess Ex-White House photographer roasts Trump: 'This is what a cover up looked like' under Obama Pelosi: Trump 'is engaged in a cover-up' MORE, who supports the ‘universal registration’ of firearms,” Needham said.

“However, we expect more from Pat Toomey and, more importantly, so do his constituents. To be clear, lawmakers will not get a pass on any bill that infringes on the constitutional rights of the American people.”

The deal was cheered by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which pulled television ads in Pennsylvania that were critical of Toomey.

The Manchin-Toomey deal would require background checks for all firearm sales at gun shows and over the Internet, except for those between friends and acquaintances. The background checks would have to be accompanied by records proving to law enforcement officials they took place.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidLobbying World Mitch McConnell is not invincible Seven big decisions facing Biden in 2020 primary MORE (D-Nev.) filed a motion to move forward on a gun control bill earlier this week, setting up a preliminary Thursday vote on whether to proceed with votes on amendments coming as early as next week. The package includes expanded requirements for background checks, stiffer penalties for straw purchasing guns, and funding for school safety initiatives. The motion to proceed is expected to pass.

The Manchin-Toomey proposal is expected take the place of background-check language written by Schumer. But it’s unclear whether Reid plans to substitute the language before the package comes to the floor or schedule a vote to amend it once the floor debate begins.

— Russell Berman and Alexander Bolton contributed to this report.