Washington – Proposed gun legislation in the Senate stalled Tuesday as its supporters scrambled to reach a 60-vote majority needed for consideration of amendments to the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hoped to hold a vote Tuesday on a compromise measure that would expand FBI background checks on potential gun buyers, but exempt people-to-people sales.
But Reid needs 60 votes to overcome procedural hurdles erected by Republican opponents in the 100-seat Senate, where Democrats and two independents control 55 seats. Tuesday morning Reid could only count on the support of 52 senators.
“We’re not there today,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.
The focus Tuesday was on five Democratic senators and three Republicans who are on the fence.
Sens. Mark Begich, D-Alaska: Max Baucus, D-Mont.; Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.; Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., are under intense pressure from both sides of the debate.
To turn up the heat on these undecided Democrats, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., a victim of a Tucson shooter and a gun control advocate, was a guest speaker at the party’s caucus lunch Tuesday.
Giffords’ husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, said he believes enough votes can be found.
“I don’t think [the bill] has so many problems. It’s been a short period of time, some folks need to read the legislation,” Kelly said.
Murphy and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., also made their pitches at the lunch as did Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who brokered a deal on background checks with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.
Reid said it was a very emotional caucus meeting.
“I think there’s significant momentum,” Reid told reporters after the lunch. “Am I saying it’s all over with, done, we got the votes? No, but we certainly feel we have the wind at our back.”
Despite the uncertainty, Reid said he would schedule votes on nine amendments, including the Toomey-Manchin compromise, on late Wednesday afternoon after a day-long debate. Among the amendments considered will be a National Rifle Association substitute, an assault weapons ban and a high-capacity magazine ban sponsored by Blumenthal and Murphy.
One proposal under consideration to win the votes of Begich, Heitkamp and maybe others would exempt rural areas of Alaska, North Dakota, and perhaps other states, from the background check requirement.
Murphy said that idea is fine with him.
“We’re keeping the table open,” he said. “Nothing is set in stone.”
Only three Republicans say they would vote for the Toomey-Manchin background check proposal: Toomey, of course, and Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois.
But gun control advocates are targeting at least three other GOP senators, John McCain of Arizona, Dean Heller of Nevada and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.