Could The Manchin/Toomey Background Checks Plan Pass The House?

Paul Barrett at Bloomberg writes a report expressing doubt about the likelihood that the background checks plan that was announced yesterday could pass the House:

The Senate is poised to vote on expanding background checks for firearm sales at gun shows and via the Internet. Let’s assume that the unlikely compromise announced today by two backbenchers—Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania—will allow the Obama administration to get past a filibuster threat and have an up-or-down vote.

Since Democrats control 55 votes in the Senate, there would be a decent chance the background-check bill passes. Would that constitute a big victory for the White House? What happens next? And how much does any of this matter?

The short version: It’s a political win notable for its modest scale. Next, the debate shifts to the Republican-controlled House, where gun-control provisions ordinarily go to die. And it’s hard to say how much expanding background checks matters, because the crucial statistic undergirding the idea is so musty.

Greg Sargent, on the other hand, argues that the deal may not be dead on arrival in the House after all:

[T]here is a narrow path to victory even in the House, according to GOP Rep. Peter King of New York, who plans to introduce a bill in the lower chamber that is very similar to the proposal rolled out yesterday by Senators Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin.

“The combination of having Manchin and Toomey as the main sponsors, and assuming it can pass the Senate with a significant majority, greatly increases the chances that it will attract enough Republican support to pass the House,” Rep. King told me in an interview. “If Pat Toomey can support it, most conservatives should be able to support it and should want to support it.”

King said he has been in talks with a number of House Republicans about joining the effort, and that he would be “aggressive” in pursuing them in the wake of the Toomey-Manchin announcement, which could help change the debate for some conservatives. Yesterday Toomey said there are a “substantial number” of House Republicans who support his proposal’s “general approach.”

All of this sounds like a real long shot, and in truth, it is. But it’s not impossible. Dave Wasserman, who closely tracks House races and districts for the Cook Political Report, points out that there are a number of districts with certain characteristics that make as many as a few dozen House Republicans potentially gettable on the proposal.

“These are the types of Republicans who come not just from suburban districts, but districts where the business community is the prevalent faction of the Republican base, as opposed to gun owning social conservatives,” Wasserman tells me. He cited 17 districts that went for Obama in 2012, as well as other ones in suburban Minneapolis, New Jersey, parts of California, and the Philadelphia suburbs (a key motivator for Toomey), as examples.

King, you may recall, helped pull together a coalition of several dozen House Republicans that broke with conservatives and passed aid to Hurricane Sandy victims earlier this year.

Wasserman noted that getting GOP support for background checks would be a “delicate sell.” But he pointed to another key factor: the NRA’s power to influence members of the House may be overstated. Whereas the Club for Growth is able to pressure Republicans hard on fiscal matters, Wasserman notes, “the capacity of the gun lobby to seriously primary Republicans who go the other direction on this issue may be more limited. That’s what could enable background checks to pass the House.”

All of this depends, of course, on the House leadership letting the bill come to the floor for a vote to begin with. That’s not a done deal at all, since it’s clear that the only way this bill could pass would be if Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor would be willing to bring to a floor a bill that would end up passing with majority Democratic support while the majority of their caucus votes against it. This would violate the so-called “Hastert Rule,” but it’s worth noting that there is already precedent for such a move. Earlier this year, the GOP leadership allowed the Hurricane Sandy Relief bill to come to the floor knowing it would only pass if the rule would violated. Would they be willing to do this on an issue that polls consistently show has the support of the vast majority of Americans? That remains to be seen.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Guns and Gun Control, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Tsar Nicholas says:

    There’s a House? Who knew?

    Speaking of which, what I would do if I were the GOP House caucus is I’d take this bill (assuming it gets through the Senate), then I’d add to it the following: comprehensive tort reform for gun merchants, preemption of all state and local gun control, a supermajority requirement for all future gun restrictions and, hell, ANWR drilling, just for good measure, and then I’d send it back to the Senate and of course a DOA conference. Politics 101.

  2. It should be noted that the Toomey bill is less stringent than the background check requirements that are already state law in Pennsylvania. So he’s backing a bill that, in terms of his constituents, is entirely symbolic. Too bad the tea-tards are too stupid to realize how strategically brilliant that is.

  3. PD Shaw says:

    @Stormy Dragon: That brings up an interesting issue to me. There are a handful of states for which that it might be true that the proposed federal law is less stringent or little different from existing state law. (CA, HI, IL, MI, MD, PA, NJ, NY, CT, RI & MA) It would be a no-brainer for politicians to support the federal law. At the very least it eliminates potential economic advantage to neighboring states.

    But what the deal with the dozens of other states? How can more comprehensive background checks be obvious in states like Oregon, Ohio and Maine if state law doesn’t reflect that preference?

  4. PD Shaw says:

    @PD Shaw: To clarify, I should have wrote: It would be a no-brainer for politicians from those gun-control states to support the proposed federal law, regardless of party.

  5. @PD Shaw:

    Toomey doesn’t need people in Oregon, Ohio, and Maine to vote for him.

  6. @PD Shaw:

    Also it seems really odd to call Pennsylvania a “gun control” state:

  7. PD Shaw says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Is my point that obtuse? Why should an Ohio Representative feel the need to vote for a law that Toomey introduced, but his own state legislature rejects?

    Pennsylvania has stricter gun control laws than almost eighty percent of the states according to the Brady gun control group.

  8. @PD Shaw:

    From their website:

    Among other things, Pennsylvania:
    •Requires a background check prior to the private sale of a handgun;
    •Conducts its own background checks for firearm sales; and
    •Requires firearm dealers to obtain a state license.

    However, Pennsylvania does not:
    •Prohibit the transfer or possession of assault weapons, 50 caliber rifles or large capacity ammunition magazines;
    •Require firearm owners to obtain a license;
    •Require the registration of firearms;
    •Limit the number of firearms that may be purchased at one time;
    •Impose a waiting period on firearm purchases;
    •Regulate unsafe handguns;
    •Regulate ammunition sales;
    •Allow local governments to regulate firearms or ammunition; or
    •Provide local law enforcement with discretion to deny a license to carry firearms.

    To suggest those first three things constitute “a lot of gun control” seem ridiculous to me.

  9. PD Shaw says:

    OK, quote me as saying something I did not say (“a lot of gun control”), I can no longer assume that I’m not communicating clearly; its either bad faith or some partisan hangup on your part. Boring Sidney. Boring. Boring. Boring.

  10. PD Shaw says:

    @Stormy, sorry, a bit cranky yesterday. Long meeting where nobody seemed to understand each other; like being in the Tower of Babel, but the damn tower won’t fall to let me escape.

  11. matt bernius says:

    @PD Shaw:

    Long meeting where nobody seemed to understand each other; like being in the Tower of Babel, but the damn tower won’t fall to let me escape.

    Ugg those suck.

    But, your general point still stands. @Stormy Dragon, PD said “stricter controls than most state” which is different than “a lot of gun control”. Perhaps a better statement would have been, “in some areas Pennsylvania has stricter gun controls that most states.” But that’s splitting hairs.

    The first item on that list that you quoted is that Pennsylvania “Requires a background check prior to the private sale of a handgun.”

    To PD’s point — and what you wrote above — that’s exactly what the Federal Regulation would require. So, at least in Toomey’s case, all he’s doing is proposing a national law that would bring all States in line with the laws of his state.