Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he would look to bring new gun control legislation to a vote as early as Thursday, just as it has become increasingly clear that minority Republicans won’t be able to block a vote on those measures.
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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., speaks to the press after the weekly Senate Democrats policy luncheon on March 19, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Reid said that he would move to cut off debate on a gun control law on Tuesday evening with hopes of beginning votes as soon as Thursday on existing Democratic legislation passed out of committee last month. The Senate’s top Democrat said he would be willing to consider any agreement covering universal background checks – the centerpiece of the new gun control proposals – if a bipartisan pair of senators could reach one. In the meanwhile, Reid said Tuesday that he would press forward.
The Nevada senator’s position has been strengthen as a series of Republican senators – in the face of mounting pressure from President Barack Obama – have said they would not join with their more conservative colleagues to force Reid to produce a filibuster-proof 60 or more votes to move forward with debate on gun legislation.
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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tells members of the media that he expects a vote on gun reform to occur on the Senate floor Thursday.
One by one – starting with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., saying on Sunday that he would not support a filibuster – Republican senators have said they favor allowing an up-or-down vote on the new gun proposals, as long they are allowed to offer amendments during the process. A handful of GOP senators said on Tuesday alone that they would not join a filibuster, enabling Reid to begin the process of bringing one of the Obama administration’s top domestic priorities to a vote.
The movement comes as lawmakers come under increasing political pressure from the administration, as well as the family members of victims of December’s deadly elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn. – the tragedy which prompted the renewed push for gun laws.
Obama has led Democrats in demanding that victims’ families, if nothing else, “deserve a vote,” especially given the relative popularity of proposals like universal background checks (which coincidentally makes up the centerpiece of Obama’s gun initiative).
But talks toward a deal on background checks have continued to flounder. Sens. Joe Manchin, a pro-guns Democrat from West Virginia, has been working with Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, to reach an accord on the provision. But all signs point to Reid deciding to move forward – likely by bringing an existing, Democratic bill to a vote – if talks between Manchin and Toomey are unable to yield an agreement.
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Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
The Republican reluctance to filibuster, though, has given Manchin and Toomey some breathing room to negotiate a deal. The pair could easily keep talking past tonight's deadline, and an agreement could be included in a bill later in the process.
Due to Senate rules, that means the earliest point at which votes could begin on gun issues is Thursday.
There are still real obstacles, though, to moving a major gun control law forward.
Foremost among them is the filibuster threat from a group of conservative Republicans, which enjoys the support of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Democrats believe that as many as 10 Republican senators could join them in ending a filibuster, though the majority Democrats could suffer defections; Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, who faces a tough re-election battle in ruby-red Arkansas, could oppose moving forward with the bill.
Moreover, Republicans who object to the new gun laws could wage a so-called “talking filibuster” similar to the one waged earlier this year by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in protest of the Obama administration’s drone strike policy. In such a scenario, Republican senators might look to speak for hours on end to delay a vote on the gun laws, and bring national attention to their side of the issue.