What Are The Odds Manchin-Toomey Will Pass The Senate?

If all goes as planned, it’s likely that the Senate will be voting on the enhanced background checks bill put forward last week by Senators Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin. We already know that a group of as many as a dozen Senators led by Senator Rand Paul will attempt to filibuster the bill, meaning that Harry Reid to garner as many as 60 votes in order to invoke cloture and proceed to a final vote on the bill. Reid has some good news in that regard today in that there are now four Republican Senators who have announced their intent to vote for the bill:

A bipartisan bill on background checks is inching closer to the necessary 60 votes for passage, but it still has a long way to go.

The upcoming vote on a new proposal crafted by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) is expected to go down to the wire. The Hill on Friday contacted many Senate offices to find out their positions on the amendment, which is strongly opposed by the National Rifle Association (NRA).

There are now four Republicans who have publicly committed to supporting the amendment: Sens. Toomey, Mark Kirk (Ill.), Susan Collins (Maine) and John McCain (Ariz.).

There are a dozen other Republicans who voted for a motion to proceed on the gun control bill last week, including Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Roger Wicker (Miss.) and Dean Heller (Nev.).

None of the twelve Republicans who voted to begin debate last week have said what they intend to do when the bill comes up for a cloture vote, so Reid cannot count on their votes on the cloture motion. He’s got another potential problem in the fact that one of the members of his own caucus, Frank Lautenberg, has been away from the Senate for several weeks due to ill health and may not be able to appear in Washington later this week:

WASHINGTON — As a crucial series of gun-control votes approaches in the Senate, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are suddenly preoccupied with one question in particular: when is Frank Lautenberg coming back?

Mr. Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat and the oldest member of the Senate at 89, has been out for weeks dealing with health complications from cancer treatment.

But with Democrats scrambling to come up with enough votes to overcome resistance to the most sweeping gun-control legislation in a generation, Mr. Lautenberg’s presence (or absence) is shaping up to be critically important.

Aides insist that Mr. Lautenberg, who has been undergoing physical therapy for weeks, will try to get to Washington once the voting begins on the assortment of gun-safety measures, which are expected to come to the floor in the coming weeks.

Mr. Lautenberg’s aides say he is eager to return, particularly given that he introduced an amendment to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines.

“Senator Lautenberg is feeling better and hopes to be in Washington for gun votes,” Caley Gray, a spokesman for the senator, said in a statement on Monday.

For weeks, rumors and concern have been swirling about the health of Mr. Lautenberg, who this year announced that he would retire rather than seek a sixth term in 2014. The senator cast his most recent vote in the Senate on Feb. 28.

The preoccupation with Mr. Lautenberg, one of the chamber’s most ardent advocates of gun control, has only intensified as the Senate moved in recent days to begin the most significant debate on gun legislation in two decades.

For the last few weeks, Mr. Lautenberg, who received a diagnosis of stomach cancer three years ago, has been grappling with debilitating and long-term consequences that powerful chemotherapy treatment has had on his leg muscles, according to people close to him.

As a result, he has been using a wheelchair while undergoing physical therapy to regain his strength. But Mr. Lautenberg, an extraordinarily proud man who served in World War II, has not wanted to show up in the Senate in a wheelchair, according to those who know him.

If Lautenberg appears, then Reid can count 59 votes for cloture at this point. If he doesn’t, then he only has 58 and he’ll have to find more Republican support on at least the cloture bill. The window for Republican yes votes, though, seems to be closing fast:

Bob Corker has long been one of Senators thought to be gettable on gun background checks. He is a relative moderate, doesn’t have the posture of an ideological bomb thrower, and has been known to be willing to work with Democrats on occasion.

But Corker will oppose the Manchin-Toomey background check compromise. His spokesperson, Laura Herzog, emails:

“Senator Corker would not support Toomey-Manchin as written but is open to supporting amendments to achieve what he believes is the central issue: preventing violence by dangerous, mentally ill people.”

Senator Lindsey Graham’s office also announced today that he will oppose the proposal, as did Senator Tom Coburn. That’s too bad, since Coburn has endorsed the policy goal of expanding background checks, only purporting to have concerns about record keeping.

The one bit of good news is that his defections seem to be under control. Kay Hagen of North Carolina, who is up for re-election in 2014, is one of the red state Democrats whose vote was in question. Today she announced she would be voting for the bill. Reid still faces concerns from Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor, both of whom are red state Democrats up for re-election in 2014 and far more vulnerable than Hagen. This vote is going to go right down to the wire.

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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.