Senate Democrats want to finalize and pass legislation to require expanded background checks for gun purchases, but they are having a hard time finding Republican support despite earlier momentum following the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters Thursday that he hopes to bring background checks legislation to the floor “as soon as we can.”
“I talked to Chairman Leahy an hour ago — 20 minutes ago, recently — and indicated to him that he and I are going to sit down, find out now what has been reported out of the committee and what we need to put together as a base bill to start legislating on the Senate floor,” Reid said during an early afternoon press briefing. “And that’s what we’ll do.”
The problem is the legislation has almost no support among Republicans, and it’s far from clear that it can gain 60 votes to surmount a filibuster. The bill cleared the Judiciary Committee earlier this week on a vote of 10-8, without a single Republican. Bipartisan talks between Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the sponsor of the bill, and Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) appear to have hit a wall.
Democrats expect to hold on to Kirk’s support but would prefer to have another Republican cosponsor it before bringing it to the floor. That’s proving to be a challenge. They’re still holding out hope for that, but if the effort fails, they may still bring the bill to the floor and mount an aggressive push to find 60 senators to agree to a final vote.
The legislation would substantially beef up background checks for nearly all gun purchases, with some exemptions, such as transfers of firearms within families.
Separate legislation by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to ban so-called assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines also cleared the Judiciary Committee Thursday, but that legislation faces a steeper uphill climb to 51 votes, let alone 60 in the likely event of a GOP filibuster. Democratic leaders have signaled that the assault weapons ban in particular may have a difficult time passing Congress.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.