Democrats divided on gun control strategy

Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSchumer lays groundwork for future filibuster reform Holder, Yates lead letter backing Biden pick for Civil Rights Division at DOJ Capitol Police officer killed in car attack lies in honor in Capitol Rotunda MORE (D-N.Y.) needs to unify his caucus on gun control legislation, a top Democratic priority, but he already faces various problems.

Centrist Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinModerates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats 'Just say no' just won't work for Senate Republicans The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring MORE (D-W.Va.) says a background checks bill passed by the House goes too far, while other colleagues, such as Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinBiden's gun control push poses danger for midterms Caitlyn Jenner exploring bid for California governor: report WokeWorld comes for 'oppressor' Obama: Activists rip school being named after 'deporter in chief' MORE (D-Calif.) and Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinWhen it comes to the Iran nuclear deal, what's a moderate Democrat to do? Battle lines drawn on Biden's infrastructure plan GOP senator hammers Biden proposal to raise corporate tax rate MORE (D-Md.), are pushing for an assault weapons ban and restrictions on high-capacity magazines, controversial proposals that would be tough for moderates to support.

Any gun control measure would need 10 Republican votes to pass, another serious obstacle to getting something done.


Gun control legislation would not be eligible for the special budgetary pathway known as reconciliation and therefore would need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. Democrats control only 50 seats and are not even assured of keeping their entire caucus unified.

Even after two mass shootings in Boulder, Colo., and Atlanta, there’s strong resistance among Republican senators to expanding background check requirements for gun sales and transfers.

Republicans such as Sen. John CornynJohn CornynIntelligence leaders push for mandatory breach notification law Senate GOP signal they won't filibuster debate of hate crimes bill Application portal for venue grants down for five days with no updates MORE (Texas) say they are willing to require background checks for all commercial gun transactions, but that falls well short of what most Democrats want to do.

Democrats say Republican calls to limit background checks to “commercial” sales will leave too many transactions uncovered.

Manchin said Tuesday he does not support a bill passed by the House to expand background checks to include all individuals who would purchase or transfer firearms. He wants an exemption for transfers between friends and family.

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterLobbying world The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's infrastructure plan triggers definition debate Lawmakers say fixing border crisis is Biden's job MORE (D-Mont.) on Wednesday said he’s also concerned about the House bill’s requirement on background checks for transfers or sales between family members.


Manchin says he will resume negotiations with Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeySasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote Philly GOP commissioner on censures: 'I would suggest they censure Republican elected officials who are lying' Toomey censured by several Pennsylvania county GOP committees over impeachment vote MORE (R-Pa.) on their joint proposal unveiled in 2013 that would require background checks for guns sold over the internet or at gun shows but exempt sales and transfers between friends and family.

One emerging concern for Democrats is that Manchin says he wants to focus on commercial sales.

Manchin said Wednesday “it’s long past due” to implement what he called “commonsense” reform.

“Commercial background checks is the most, I think, reasonable approach,” he said. “I’ve always said that.”

Manchin said he will be speaking with his old partner, Toomey, and Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyGiffords group unveils gun violence memorial on National Mall Democrats back up Biden bid to return to Iran nuclear deal Biden sparks bipartisan backlash on Afghanistan withdrawal  MORE (D-Conn.), a leading advocate for stricter gun control laws.

Several other Republican senators have expressed willingness to consider expanded background check requirements, including Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsModerates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate confirms Mallory to lead White House environment council | US emissions dropped 1.7 percent in 2019 | Interior further delays Trump rule that would make drillers pay less to feds Anti-Asian hate crimes bill overcomes first Senate hurdle MORE (R-Maine), Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyModerates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats Sinema, Romney propose bill to tackle student loan debt Romney, Sinema teaming up on proposal to raise minimum wage MORE (R-Utah), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanKellyanne Conway joins Ohio Senate candidate's campaign OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate confirms Mallory to lead White House environment council | US emissions dropped 1.7 percent in 2019 | Interior further delays Trump rule that would make drillers pay less to feds Senate confirms Biden's pick to lead White House environmental council MORE (R-Ohio), Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungTo encourage innovation, Congress should pass two bills protecting important R&D tax provision Senate Republicans voice opposition to Biden on Iran Biden infrastructure proposal prioritizes funds for emerging technologies MORE (R-Ind.).

“I have long been a supporter of the Manchin-Toomey proposal, without infringing on the rights of law-abiding Americans, to change and close some of the loopholes in the background checks so that they apply to online sales, for example,” Collins told reporters Monday.

But the Maine moderate didn’t seem enthusiastic about the House-passed bill.

“My understanding is that it's very, very broad,” she said.

Schumer says he’s not going to pick and choose right now what the Senate should do but instead will meet with colleagues, including Murphy, to chart a path forward.

“We have to figure out the best way to get the most done,” he said. “I’m not going to pick which of them. The background checks bill passed the House, it passed it overwhelmingly. It’s supported by 90 percent of Americans, 80 percent of gun owners."

“That is not to say we wouldn’t look at other things as well,” he said.


The House background checks bill passed 227 to 203.

Murphy said Wednesday that expanding background checks will be the starting point of the negotiations.

“Background checks has the benefit of being the most politically popular and practical from a policy standpoint, so I think it makes sense to start with fixing the background checks system and that involves expanding [it],” he said.

But he raised concerns about limiting background checks to commercial transactions and said he wants to go further than the Manchin-Toomey amendment from 2013, which exempted sales and transfers between family and friends.

“It’s hard to define what a commercial sale is,” Murphy said. “If it’s selling to a stranger, but that didn’t occur online or at a gun show, is that a commercial sale?"

He said a better option would be to create “very clear carveout of family members.”


He noted that Manchin and Toomey negotiated with the National Rifle Association (NRA) while crafting their scaled-down proposal to expand background checks nearly eight years ago in the hope that the gun owners’ rights group would back the amendment, which it never did.

The NRA ultimately opposed the Manchin-Toomey proposal, even though it was able to make several key changes to it.

“There’s a lot that’s happened since then,” Murphy said. “We’ve made other improvements to the background check system since then that make Manchin-Toomey pretty irrelevant.”

There are also divisions within the Democratic caucus over more far-reaching proposals, such as the ban on assault-style weapons favored by Feinstein.

The senior California senator said during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the mass shooting in Boulder that she wants the committee to consider her legislation.

“I really hope we can do something about it. I have 35 co-sponsors on a renewed assault weapons ban that is in this committee, and I would hope we can hold a hearing and perhaps consider that legislation,” she told Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick DurbinDick DurbinLawmakers demand justice for Adam Toledo: 'His hands were up. He was unarmed' Schumer warns Democrats can't let GOP block expansive agenda Holder, Yates lead letter backing Biden pick for Civil Rights Division at DOJ MORE (D-Ill.).


But putting an assault weapons ban on the floor would be a tough vote for moderate Democrats in Republican-leaning and swing states.

“I’m not crazy about that,” said Tester, who represents a state that former President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden administration still seizing land near border despite plans to stop building wall: report Illinois House passes bill that would mandate Asian-American history lessons in schools Overnight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he MORE carried by 16 points in November.

The Great Falls Tribune reported in 2018 that Montana was the second most dependent state on the firearms industry, with more than 30 firearms industry jobs for every 10,000 residents.

Tester objected to the lack of an exemption for family members in the House-passed background checks bill.

“I haven’t really looked at it. Traditionally I support background checks. I don’t think that bill has [an exemption for] passing it down to your kids. That’s a problem,” he said.

Other Democrats want votes on bills banning assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines even if those proposals have little chance of passing the Senate.

“I would be in favor of considering a couple of floor votes, at least I would. Because you have to make some of these issues more apparent to people,” said Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyModerates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats Democrats divided on gun control strategy Senate Democrats call on DHS for details on response to Portland protests MORE (D-Pa.), who supports the assault weapons ban.

“The last time we had any real debate and voting on gun policy was at this time in roughly 2013. That’s eight years. We’re long overdue,” he said. “I think it’s important to have the vote.”