A House-passed bill to expand gun background checks will be an early test of Democratic Senator Joe Manchin’s commitment to the Senate rules that enable the Republican minority to block Democratic priorities.
Requiring background checks on every gun sale, including gun shows and online, is popular with much of the American public, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday he’ll put the House bill to a vote and won’t be satisfied until it becomes law.
But under current Senate filibuster rules, at least 10 Republicans would be needed to end debate and vote on the bill.
The House on Thursday passed the bill to expand background checks, H.R. 8, on a 227-203 vote with the support of eight Republicans, though most GOP lawmakers continue to oppose any tightening of gun laws, decrying what they see as restrictions on the Second Amendment. The House passed a second bill, H.R. 1446, 219-210, which would prevent gun sales from proceeding if a background check isn’t completed within three days as allowed under current law.
“Last time, it went into Mitch McConnell’s legislative graveyard,” Schumer said, referring to House passage in the last Congress when Republicans controlled the Senate. “H.R. 8 will be on the floor of the Senate and we will see where everybody stands.”
Manchin, together with Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey, led previous Senate efforts to expand background checks in 2013 following the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. That bill was blocked by a Republican-led filibuster.
“Maybe we will get the votes, and if we don’t, we’ll come together as a caucus and figure out how we’re going to get this done, because we have to get it done,” Schumer said.
“We are going to win on this issue,” said Schumer, noting that as a House member he was the author of the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.
Manchin has repeatedly said he will not end the filibuster, but he has in the past week suggested he might support making it more painful to employ. Some ideas include requiring senators who want to block a bill to hold the floor and talk — something the modern Senate generally allows senators to avoid — and requiring 41 Senators to vote to continue a filibuster, instead of 60 to end it.
That would force Republicans to be ready to vote at all hours to block legislation. Under the existing rule, “no” votes on ending filibusters are essentially just for show.
Progressives are calling on Democrats to get rid of the filibuster, pointing out that nearly all of President Joe Biden’s agenda can be held hostage by the Senate minority under current rules. They say one of the most urgent bills passed by the House is a voting-rights package strongly opposed by Republican leaders.
Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said this week that his party’s leaders are treading carefully to first see how much Republicans obstruct. He said Schumer will decide later which bills are the true tests for whether a rules change is needed.
“I think we need some floor experience first. Bring some bills to the floor, let’s see what happens,” Durbin said.
Durbin also said leaders are likely to consider modifications to the filibuster before attempting to do away with it altogether. He said Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon is leading talks about possible changes that might include a “talking filibuster.”
Durbin, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee with jurisdiction over guns, said Manchin is sincere about bipartisanship “and I respect him for it. But there comes a point where there aren’t enough Republicans to provide votes.”
Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, meanwhile, thinks Republicans may join Democrats this time on the background-checks bill, though only two Republicans who backed Manchin’s bill in 2013 remain in the Senate — Susan Collins of Maine and Toomey.
Murphy said he’s spoken to a number of Senate Republicans in recent years who he said are interested in voting for expanding background checks this time around.
“I don’t think we should accept that there aren’t 60 votes in the Senate for universal background checks. So much has changed,” he said, noting that the politics of the issue have shifted away from the National Rifle Association.
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