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Background checks measure faces defeat, sponsor says

April 17, 2013|By Michael A. Memoli
  • Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), left, and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) talk to reporters.
Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), left, and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) talk… (Allison Shelley, AFP/Getty…)

WASHINGTON -- The lead author of a compromise plan to expand background checks, seen as the centerpiece of larger gun legislation before the Senate, all but conceded Wednesday that there won't be the votes needed to adopt it.

During an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) said that "over 90%" of Senate Democrats would be supporting his amendment when the Senate votes on it, expected shortly after 4 p.m. EDT.

"If we just had 20% of our Republican colleagues -- that's not a heavy ask, it's not a heavy lift -- only 20%, that's 9 members … this thing would be home," he said.

Under the terms of an agreement between Senate leaders to consider amendments to the larger gun bill, nine amendments are to be offered Wednesday, from Democrats and Republicans. Each would require 60 votes to pass.

Most whip counts indicate that sponsors have 52 votes for the background checks amendment, including three Republicans -- Sens. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Mark Kirk of Illinois, the measure's co-sponsors, and Maine Sen. Susan Collins.

It was just a week ago that the announcement by Manchin and Toomey on the terms of the background check plan was seen as a possible breakthrough in the nation's gun debate. But further GOP support failed to materialize, and some Democrats facing tough reelection bids have not committed.

On Tuesday, even as Manchin and Toomey pressed their case in their respective party luncheons, more Republicans stated their opposition. Late Tuesday, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski said she would vote no, and would instead support an amendment being introduced by Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley that she said was "more in line with the views of Alaskans because it accomplishes our shared goals without adding any new steps or layers of bureaucracy for any law-abiding Alaskan who wants to purchase a firearm for sport or protection."

Manchin, himself a red-state Democrat who had an A-rating from the National Rifle Assn., said he thought he could bring the "credibility" needed to convince skeptical colleagues that his measure would strengthen the background check system while protecting 2nd Amendment rights.

"I can't understand it. I really can't," Manchin said in the interview, talking about the stubborn opposition to the amendment.

A defeat of the Manchin-Toomey measure would likely doom the fate of the larger gun bill, which also includes new penalties for gun trafficking and more funding for school safety.

But Democrats have signaled the case for stricter gun laws is one that they will continue to press.

"We may not get it this week, but we will prevail," Vice President Joe Biden said at a Tuesday evening event in Baltimore, according to the Baltimore Sun. 

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michael.memoli@latimes.com

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