Manchin-Toomey Background Checks Bill In Trouble

The prospects for gun control appear to be dimming.

Capitol Buidling Dayime2

As we approach a vote some time later this week on the bill proposed by Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey to expand the nation’s background check laws for gun purchases, it’s becoming less and less certain that the bill can make it through the Senate:

Uncertainty over the fate of the proposal, in the form of an amendment to the underlying gun bill, came as the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights proponents intensified their efforts to defeat the measure by warning that even some of the elements in the plan that are supposed to be “pro-gun” could undermine Second Amendment rights.


The amendment will require at least 60 votes to clear Senate procedural rules and ensure final passage, but it still lacks sufficient support, based on an analysis by The Washington Post. The votes of just 22 of 100 senators are in play, including the 16 Republicans who voted last week to proceed with debate on the gun bill and six moderate Democrats who face difficult reelections in 2014 or represent rural states with strong gun cultures and would face strong political pressure at home for supporting new gun-control legislation.

Among the Republicans, at least nine said said Monday that they plan to vote against the Manchin-Toomey deal: Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), John Hoeven (N.D.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.) and Roger Wicker (Miss.).

Isakson’s decision is especially disappointing to gun-control groups, who hoped he would vote in favor of the plan after supporting similar proposals when he served in the Georgia state legislature.

Among the six Democrats, Sen. Kay Hagan (N.C.) announced Monday that she will vote for the plan. Spokesmen for the five other Democrats — Max Baucus (Mont.), Begich, Heitkamp, Mary Landrieu (La.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) — said Monday that the senators were reviewing the proposal and soliciting input from constituents before making a decision.

Another potential complication for Democrats is the ailing Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who has been absent because of illness for most of the year. Democrats have mostly excluded Lautenberg’s vote from potential whip counts and have said privately that they will work to bring him back to Washington only if his support is absolutely needed.

But amid growing pressure to explain his absence, Lautenberg spokeswoman Caley Gray said Monday that “Senator Lautenberg is feeling better and hopes to be in Washington for gun votes this week.”

Among the undecided, the lobbying has been intense. Gun-rights and gun-control groups pursued an inside and outside game Monday on Capitol Hill as lobbyists for both sides huddled during the day, examining the possibilities of wooing one legislator or another to their side.

At one point Monday morning, proponents of the compromise measure thought the count was so close that they recommended a delay in the planned vote, according to people familiar with the talks. But Democratic aides said they remained confident that the proposal would eventually have sufficient support for passage.

The fact that Reid is unsure of the votes of as many as five members of his own caucus, all from red states, makes the problems I wrote about over the weekend all the more apparent. Without those five votes, he wouldn’t be anywhere close to being able to invoke cloture and even the fate of the bill  on an up-or-down vote would be in doubt. It’s likely for this reason that Manchin and Toomey are reportedly considering amendments to their proposal meant to address the concerns of wavering Senators:

WASHINGTON — Short of votes for their compromise gun legislation, Senators Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, and Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, on Monday considered changes to their plan to expand background checks for gun buyers as they scrambled to win needed converts.

One approach designed to entice lawmakers representing large rural areas, particularly in Alaska, would exempt residents who live hundreds of miles from a gun dealer. Lawmakers are hoping that they can attract support from both Republicans and Democrats who are weighing the political costs and benefits of a bill against the perception that they are chipping away at gun rights.

Headed into votes this week, Senate Republicans and Democrats continued to negotiate how the legislation and its amendments, including the Toomey-Manchin measure, will be brought to the floor.

Some senators are advocating voting for a series of amendments in advance of the background check measure, allowing members to vote for or against proposals like a renewed assault weapons ban, a limit on high-capacity magazines and a new mental health provision before weighing in on the background check measure. Republicans are seeking their own amendments, including a measure that would make it easier to carry concealed weapons across state lines.

“I hope a few unreasonable extremists will not try to prevent an up-or-down vote on this legislation with a filibuster,” Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said on the Senate floor.

In a possible complication for supporters, Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, will introduce his own background check measure. It would mandate universal background checks through the Internet without the paper trail that law enforcement says is needed to track illegal guns.

Mr. Coburn will promote the bill as bipartisan — although it will have no Democratic co-sponsor — in an appeal that Republicans hope will lure away members of their own party who were considering voting for Mr. Toomey and Mr. Manchin’s amendment.

Mr. Coburn circulated a letter to Senate colleagues promoting his approach to background checks. Under the proposal, would-be gun purchasers would obtain “preclearance” before attending a gun show or shopping online by running a background check on themselves through a government-run Internet site. Mr. Coburn believes that if the Manchin-Toomey approach fails, his amendment will obtain broad, bipartisan support; critics suggest that the amendment would weaken current background check laws.

Greg Sargent looks at all this and, somewhat strangely, wonders why red state Democrats who may oppose the bill would also appose  invoking cloture:

[I]t needs to be restated that these Senators have the option of voting Yes on breaking the filibuster, while voting No on the final vote. In that scenario, the proposal would likely pass with a simple majority. And so, if these Senators continue to hold out, they need to be pressed on whether they really think a proposal that has the support of eight in 10 Americans doesn’t deserve a straight up or down vote, at a time when the Newtown slayings have focused public attention on a problem that continues to claim the lives of thousands of Americans per year. Whatever their final vote, there’s no excuse for them to enable and participate in GOP obstructionism of a proposal with near universal public support.

Yes, they could do that but, in doing so, they would pretty much defeat the purpose of their no votes. If these Senators do end up voting no on the bill, it’s going to be for reasons of political survival as much as anything else. This is especially true of Senators Landrieu and Pryor, who both face tough re-election campaigns next year. Senator Baucus is also up for re-election next year but there’s been some speculation that he may retire. Donnelly and and Heitkamp were both elected in 2012 and thus face less political pressure. However, to the extent any of them are facing such pressure, a no vote on the final bill is really pretty meaningless if they end up voting yes on the Cloture vote. If that happens, their opponents will spin it as a vote in favor of gun control, especially if the bill ends up passing. So, I understand where Sargent is coming from here but I think it exhibits a certain naivete about the partisan political forces at work here.

As for the Manchin-Toomey bill itself, we’re now hearing rumors that any votes on the bill will be delayed until next week, which seems like a fairly good sign that it’s in trouble.


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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. C. Clavin says:

    92% of the Country wants something meaningful done.
    The Congress, having been purchased by the NRA…themselves a shill for the gun manufacturers, will fail to do anything meaningful.

  2. JKB says:

    Well, Harry Reid’s freudian slip probably hasn’t help, even if it was a refreshing bit of honesty from a Democrat, if not politicians in general

    “On the anti-gun legislation before the Senate, we are making good progress on the effort to schedule a series of votes on amendments to the anti-gun-violence legislation before the Senate.”

  3. Sandman says:

    Do you support common sense gun regulations?
    Obviously the majority of people would agree to this question. Unfortunately, no one seems to be able to agree on what common sense is.

  4. JKB says:

    @C. Clavin:… themselves a shill for the gun manufacturers, will fail to do anything meaningful.

    You are just showing your ignorance. The NRA membership is a small percentage of gun owners. Gun owners who vote. Gun owners who have been letting their elected representatives know how they feel and how they’ll vote.

    Gun owners who forced the “postponement” of the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show over the promoter banning the display of the most popular rifle. The NRA was a late comer to the pull out. Good news, the ESOS seems be back on, with a new promoter.

    Gun owners who not only attended but bought out the promotional items for the NRA 500 NASCAR race. Even in the face of idiot Senators trying to have the race cancelled and ESPN refusing any mention of the sponsor beyond contractual obligations. We shall see the price ESPN pays for choosing the wrong side.

    So on the one hand you have a poll of people answering a question vs. people putting their money, time and effort demonstrating their resolve. Who might the politician fear when their reelection comes up?

  5. PD Shaw says:

    Sargent seems like a nice kid. Maybe he’ll realize someday that on wedge issue votes, if the bill is dead anyway, its usually better not to have to voted at all. In this case, Reid can grab the mantle of victory by blaming the Republicans for not allowing a vote.

  6. C. Clavin says:

    @ JKB…
    Look…I understand you are part of the gun cult. I don’t expect you to recognize the facts in the midst of your compensation obsession.

    Also; I’m wondering why you didn’t bother mentioning the gun-owner/voter who shot himself at the NRA sponsored NASCAR event?
    Of course I’d shoot myself in the head too, before I forced myself to watch NASCAR.

  7. wr says:

    @JKB: “So on the one hand you have a poll of people answering a question vs. people putting their money, time and effort demonstrating their resolve. Who might the politician fear when their reelection comes up? ”

    If this is your metric, why is heroin not legal yet? Certainly heroin users put their money, time and effort into demonstrating their resolve to shoot up. And since the great passion of a tiny minority should — according to you — outweigh the will of the vast majority, then they should be allowed all the heroin they want. Oh, and child porn, too.

  8. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Not surprising. This whole thing in any case is a giant dog & pony show and de facto fundraising mechanism for the Dems. Obviously expansive gun control could not possibly get through the House.

    If I were national czar with plenary powers to enact legislation of my own choosing, I’d preempt and forever abrogate every state and local gun restriction, I’d impose comprehensive and fundamental tort and lawsuit reforms in favor of gun merchants, I’d impose supermajority requirements for any future gun-related legislation, but just because I’m egalitarian at heart I’d impose one national 2-week waiting period along with criminal background checks for new commercial sales of firearms by gun merchants. The left would get waiting periods and background checks in the likes of Texas and other states they despise. The rest of us could go on about our important business. No bans. No C&C restrictions. Less gun violence in the likes of Detroit, Philly, Chicago, San Francisco and L.A. Win-win.

  9. JKB says:


    Well, all the heroin users have to do is vote against those who seek to take their heroin away.

    And are heroin users spread well throughout the Congressional districts? Or are they concentrated in urban areas and therefore only impact a few representatives? Do they vote? Perhaps their addiction has led to felony convictions which denies them their right to vote? Perhaps they don’t spend their money in a manner that creates economic power such as buy supporting many and varied businesses? Perhaps the “businesses” they spend their money with cannot vote because of past felony convictions? Or illegal status?

    Your example is poor. Not only must you put your time, effort and money into an endeavor, you must Vote.

    People said they want common sense gun laws but as we see, event the Manchin-Toomey “compromise” isn’t commonsense and is actually written so that “gun rights” provisions can be manipulated by the bureaucrats into serious gun control.

    The Toomey-Manchin Amendment which may be offered as soon as Tuesday to Senator Reid’s gun control bill are billed as a “compromise” which contain a variety of provisions for gun control, and other provisions to enhance gun rights. Some of the latter, however, are not what they seem. They are badly miswritten, and are in fact major advancements for gun control.

  10. C. Clavin says:

    @ JKB…
    It’s bogus legislation because it was written by the gun lobby.
    Toomay and Manchin don’t care about voters…they care about lobbyists.
    Stop being so naive.

  11. Jack says:

    @Sandman: Manchin-Toomey isn’t common sense.

  12. Wiley says:
  13. KKelly says:

    JKB~ way to keep it straight without all the immature finger pointing and name calling! Toomey is hands down a sell out, a wolf in sheeps clothing. As long as we all stand behind our 2nd amendment, continue to share our vision with our family, friends, colleges and neighbors… I believe Pennsylvania will prevail in setting an example not following states like NY into the guillotine. I’m proud of my fellow conservatives and gun owners who do their part in educating others, including their children in safe gun practices. I was impressed that those affiliated with the outdoor show pulled out this year, it was a hell of a statement. Looking forward to supporting the ESOS next year when we have all this behind us!

  14. HarvardLaw92 says:


    The NRA membership is a small percentage of gun owners. Gun owners who vote.

    Which begs the question of why NRA can’t persuade more gun owners to join up.

    That said, a leisurely stroll through the list of their directors should tell anybody where NRA’s true loyalties lie. 30 years ago that may have been a considered and reasonable voice with respect to gun policy. Now, they’re just (IMO) shills for the gun industry.

  15. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @C. Clavin: The Congress, having been purchased by the NRA…

    Time for you to start plagiarizing some new talking points, Cliffy-boy… that one’s being busted. It turns out that Big Nanny Bloomberg, by his lonesome, has spent as much money pushing gun control as the NRA has spent against it.

  16. markm says:

    Pretty much as predicted…no?.

  17. markm says:–203365291.html?_osource=SocialFlowTwt_MIBrand

    The bipartisan effort to expand background checks will not have the votes to advance in the Senate today, according to one of the architects of the deal.

    We will not get the votes today,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told NBC News.

  18. fred says:

    I voted twice for Pres Obama but he has been a disaster for elderly. middle class and poor people. Just look at how Wall Street is breaking all records while CDs languish and people can’t find jobs. If the banks had been allowed to fail things for the folks mentioned above could not be any worse. Rich people have done well under this community organizer as they called him, very well thank you.

  19. markm says: