Senate rejects background checks on gun purchases in 54-46 vote

Senate rejects background checks on gun purchases in 54-46 vote

The Senate delivered a devastating blow to President Obama’s agenda to regulate guns Wednesday by defeating a bipartisan proposal to expand background checks.

It failed by a vote of 54 to 46, with five Democrats voting against it. Only four Republicans supported it.

Democratic Sens. Mark PryorMark Lunsford PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (Ark.), Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusOvernight 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 Judge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester MORE (Mont.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampOn The Money: Stocks sink on Trump tariff threat | GOP caught off guard by new trade turmoil | Federal deficit grew 38 percent this fiscal year | Banks avoid taking position in Trump, Dem subpoena fight Fight over Trump's new NAFTA hits key stretch Former senators launching effort to help Dems win rural votes MORE (N.D.), Mark BegichMark Peter BegichFormer GOP chairman Royce joins lobbying shop Lobbying world Dem governors on 2020: Opposing Trump not enough MORE (Alaska) and Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidLobbying World Mitch McConnell is not invincible Seven big decisions facing Biden in 2020 primary MORE (Nev.) voted against it. Reid supported the measure but voted against it to preserve his ability to bring the measure up again.

GOP Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainClimate change is a GOP issue, too It's Joe Biden's 2020 presidential nomination to lose Meghan McCain on Pelosi-Trump feud: 'Put this crap aside' and 'work together for America' MORE (Ariz.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Collins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' Biden says Congress must move to protect abortion rights MORE (Maine), Pat Toomey (Pa.) and 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.) voted "yes."

The amendment sponsored by Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate Democrats to House: Tamp down the impeachment talk The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Senate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats MORE (D-W.Va.) and Toomey appeared to have political momentum last week.

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It would have expanded checks to cover all firearms sales at gun shows and over the Internet, but would have exempted sales between friends and acquaintances outside of commercial venues.

Democrats felt confident the compromise could pass once Toomey, a Republican with an A rating from the National Rifle Association, signed on. They were caught off guard by the vigorous lobbying campaign waged by the NRA, which warned lawmakers that Manchin-Toomey would be a factor in its congressional scorecard.

What appeared to be a likely victory for the president was resoundingly defeated by the Senate as jittery Democrats facing tough reelections next year joined nearly the entire Republican conference.

The NRA released a statement immediately after the vote that said the measure would have "criminalized certain private transfers of firearms between honest citizens."

"As we have noted previously, expanding background checks, at gun shows or elsewhere, will not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in their schools," NRA executive director Chris Cox said in a statement.

Now Democratic leaders will have to overhaul the pending gun control bill to give it a chance of passing the Senate in diminished form.

The failure of Manchin-Toomey means the broader bill still includes Democratic language passed by the Judiciary Committee to establish universal background checks. That language failed to attract a single Republican vote during the panel markup, and conservative Democrats such as Manchin and Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSenate Democrats to House: Tamp down the impeachment talk Threat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Overnight Defense: Trump officials say efforts to deter Iran are working | Trump taps new Air Force secretary | House panel passes defense bill that limits border wall funds MORE (D-Mont.) have said they cannot support the package without changes to the language on background checks.

The Senate’s failure to expand background checks means the three pillars of Obama’s gun control agenda have stalled. The chamber is expected to also reject proposals to ban military-style semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.


Gun control and immigration reform are two of the president’s biggest second-term priorities.

White House officials refused to acknowledge the likely defeat of Manchin-Toomey right up until the Senate vote.

At the White House briefing on Wednesday, press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that while they believed passing the legislation “was always going to be difficult ... we believe there is a path, a very difficult path, to get to 60 votes.”

A seemingly frustrated Carney railed against NRA-backed lawmakers, whom he said had spread “a lot of bogus information” about the amendment on background checks.

Manchin also criticized the NRA, who had given him an A rating, for distorting the substance of his amendment.

“I was surprised when the latest alerts from the NRA were filled with so much misinformation about the firearms background check legislation,” he said.

Manchin said the gun-owners-rights’ group told members the bill would criminalize the private transfer of firearms.

“I don’t know how to put the words any plainer than this: that is a lie,” he said.

Manchin and Toomey are likely to see their NRA rating downgraded as a result of leading the charge to expand background checks.

Obama and Vice President Biden kept their distance from the Manchin-Toomey in the days leading up to the vote, perhaps fearing their involvement could scare off potential Republican and conservative Democratic supporters.

Obama called Begich and Pryor last week, but did not press them hard on the vote.

“It wasn’t a high-pressure sales job,” Pryor told The Hill on Monday.

Biden traveled to Capitol Hill to preside over the vote. He predicted Democrats would be able to expand background checks in the future if they fell short Wednesday.

“I can assure you one thing — we are going to get this eventually. If we don't get it today we are going to get it eventually,” Biden said.

Reid is mulling his next steps in the wake of the setback.

“I think the leader is trying to figure that out right now. It’s hugely disappointing that something that 90 percent of the public wants won’t get 60 votes. The country is in a different place,” said Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight 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 Senate chairman says bipartisan health care package coming Thursday MORE (Wash.), the fourth-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership.

A Senate Democratic aide said Democrats are unlikely to rally behind an alternative proposal to expand background checks.

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.) has proposed legislation that would allow potential gun buyers to conduct background checks on themselves and present certification to sellers. Coburn said his plan would give gun owners comfort that they are not selling firearms to criminals or the mentally ill.

Coburn said he expected a vote on his amendment on Thursday.

But Democrats and gun control advocates say the Coburn proposal is too weak because it would not require record-keeping to help law enforcement prosecute illegal sales and transfers.

A senior Democratic aide said his party will make background checks an issue in the 2014 midterm election.

“We’ll have an issue where 90 percent of the public is with us,” the aide said.

But 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 (N.Y.), the Senate Democrats’ chief political strategist — who played a large role in negotiating the bipartisan compromise on background checks — said the political impact of Wednesday’s vote remains to be seen.

“I think that America is largely for background checks,” he said. “An issue like this can end up helping, end up hurting. It depends.”

Amie Parnes and Justin Sink contributed to this report.