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Senate to take up gun control (four months) after Sandy Hook

A bipartisan deal to expand background checks is a step toward reforming America's gun laws--an issue so politically torturous that the mere fact of Thursday's Senate debate is a win for President Obama.
/ Source: The Last Word

A bipartisan deal to expand background checks is a step toward reforming America's gun laws--an issue so politically torturous that the mere fact of Thursday's Senate debate is a win for President Obama.

A bipartisan deal to expand background checks on gun buyers represented a step forward in the Congressional debate as the Senate prepared to take up legislation Thursday.

While the agreement, forged by two gun-owning senators with NRA “A” ratings–Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania–falls short of what President Obama was hoping for in his gun proposals package, it may set out a promising path for meaningful gun control legislation, which the president has pushed hard for since since the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has scheduled the first procedural vote for 11 am Thursday on the Senate floor, and it is now expected that the Democratic-led chamber will defeat the conservative Republicans’ filibuster and surpass the 60-vote threshold to begin the debate on the series of proposals.

Sens. Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin outlined a breakthrough agreement Wednesday that would expand background checks to cover all commercial firearms sales, including those at gun shows and online. It would not apply to person-to-person sales. The agreement would closes a major loophole in gun sales that allowed gun buyers to purchase firearms without any background check.

At a press conference, Sen. Manchin tearfully explained how his meeting with Newtown family members in Washington this week drove his efforts to craft a compromise with Republicans on gun safety legislation. “I’m a parent. I’m a grandparent,” Manchin said. “I can’t imagine. I just can’t imagine… I can’t imagine. I just… I can do something. I can do something.”

In a statement, President Obama praised the Manchin-Toomey deal.

“The agreement does represent welcome and significant bipartisan progress,” the president said. “It recognizes that there are good people on both sides of this issue, and we don’t have to agree on everything to know that we’ve got to do something to stem the tide of gun violence.”

In a rare political moment for the first lady, Michelle Obama traveled to the Obamas’ hometown of Chicago Wednesday and spoke passionately about the toll of gun violence. While telling the story of Hadiya Pendleton (a 15-year-old girl who was shot and killed a week after performing at President Obama’s second inauguration), the first lady made her case in very personal and emotional terms.

“Right now, my husband is fighting as hard as he can and engaging as many people as he can to pass commonsense reforms to protect our children from gun violence,” she said. “And these reforms deserve a vote in Congress.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, came out in support of the bipartisan deal, even pulling a gun control ad in Toomey’s state of Pennsylvania and praising Toomey’s leadership on the bipartisan agreement. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the political action committee formed by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords also spoke in favor of the deal. Giffords’ group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, promised to campaign against the conservative senators who plan to block consideration of the legislation.

As expected, the NRA and the Heritage Foundation reacted negatively to the deal.

In a letter to senators, the NRA warned that “votes on all anti-gun amendments or proposals will be considered in NRA’s future candidate evaluations.”

The Heritage Foundation issued a similar statement and warned legislators that they “will not get a pass” from the group if they support a gun-control bill. As a political caution, Sen. Toomey asked Sen. Chuck Schumer to stay away from the news conference about the compromise Wednesday morning. Senator Schumer complied: both senators agreed that the New Yorker’s presence would only aggravate the gun lobby further.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is still committed to preventing a vote on expansion of background checks, even after talking to the daughter of the slain Sandy Hook school principal who called out all 14 Republican senators threatening to block the bill from reaching the floor.

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell reminded viewers on his program Wednesday evening that the Senate is not considering anything that would infringe on the constitutional right to bear arms. He also pointed to the renewal of the assault weapons ban in order to better prevent future tragedies like Newtown.

“You do not have a right to bear a machine gun in this country,” O’Donnell said. “And Ted Cruz has not yet introduced a bill in the Senate to give you the right to bear a machine gun because he knows that Congress is well within its constitutional prerogatives when it chooses to ban the sale and manufacture of particular kinds of firearms.

“If Ted Cruz and Rand Paul and the other Senate servants of the NRA could point to one Supreme Court case indicating there is anything unconstitutional about the legislation coming to the Senate, they would. Instead, they simply choose to lie about the Second Amendment and cravenly do the bidding of the NRA, an organization which, of course, in turn is simply doing the bidding of America’s merchants of death, who reap the profits of the industry that guarantees that America’s mass murderers are the best equipped mass murderers in the world.”

Although Democrats control 55 of the 100 Senate seats and a debate is likely to ensue Thursday, any gun control measure that would get passed by the Senate is likely to receive a tepid reception from the Republican-led House. House Speaker John Boehner would not comment on the Senate compromise Wednesday after five separate questions on the topic, and did not promise a full House vote on any Senate legislation.

Boehner said that no action will be taken until the Senate clears a bill.

“Any bill that passes the Senate, we’re going to review it,” he said. “It’s one thing for two members to come to some agreement. It doesn’t substitute the will of the other 98 members.  So we’ll wait to see what the Senate does.”

Reps. Pete King of New York and California’s Mike Thompson will offer their own background checks bill, which will be similar to the Senate compromise plan.

Promising to rally Americans behind his gun control initiative, President Obama urged the Senate to “overcome obstruction by defeating a threatened filibuster, and allow a vote on this and other commonsense reforms to protect our kids and our communities.”