U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin met with Gabby
Giffords on Tuesday as all three made their last-ditch push for the votes needed
to pass a bipartisan deal to expand background checks on gun sales.
Votes are scheduled on their amendment and other gun-control proposals starting at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Toomey and Manchin expressed optimism about getting the 60 votes needed to clear a procedural hurdle and move to a Senate vote on their amendment. But other backers of their proposal expressed concern.
"This compromise legislation shouldn't be controversial," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters.
Vice President Joe Biden, on Capitol Hill for a ceremony honoring slain Giffords staffer Gabe Zimmerman, called the vote-getting efforts "fluid," but said he thought they were about there.
And Manchin, leaving the Hill Tuesday evening, said they were close, but needed "a few more."
The count late Tuesday showed 52 senators firm in their support of the Toomey-Manchin proposal, which expands background checks to commercial firearms sales over the Internet and at gun shows. Current law only requires background checks on sales made by licensed dealers. Under the senators' plan, private individuals still could sell their guns to family, friends or other acquaintances.
Polls show overwhelming support among the public, and that's what's troubling gun-control advocates. If the Toomey/Manchin amendment can't pass, more controversial proposals also up for a vote -- such as an assault weapons ban or limits on ammunition clips -- are highly unlikely to be added to the underlying bill.
Shortly after noon Tuesday, Toomey, a Republican living in Lehigh County, and Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, met privately with former Congresswoman Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, for about 10 minutes in Manchin's office, and then escorted her to the Capitol building, where she spoke at the Senate Democrats' weekly lunch.
Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt but suffered major brain trauma, hails from conservative Arizona and was hoping to persuade fellow red-state Democrats to support the bill.
Toomey didn't say much as he and Manchin walked with Giffords and Kelly, letting Manchin do the talking. Asked how Giffords could help move things along, Manchin said, "They're helping just by being here and talking to our colleagues. We're close but we could use their help."
In his talks with Republican colleagues, Toomey encourages them to read the text of his amendment before dismissing it.
"I think they're a lot more likely to come out and support it," he said.
Toomey made that pitch for his legislation at the Republican weekly lunch, where all the GOP senators are in the same room.
Others talked about tweaking the bill to exempt rural gun buyers from background checks as a way of winning the support of wavering lawmakers from Alaska and North Dakota.
To reach 60 votes, they will almost certainly need the vote of gun-control advocate U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who has been absent from Capitol Hill most of the year due to illness. But an aide told The Washington Post that Lautenberg "hopes" to be present for any gun votes this week.
Currently, the only Senate Republicans committing their vote are Toomey, Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois.
John McCain of Arizona is a strong maybe, and Jeff Flake, Arizona's other senator, who was also considered a maybe, said Monday night he would not support the Toomey/Manchin plan.
Two other Republicans are undecided.
Flake and Giffords are close friends. But Mark Kelly, at a breakfast with reporters Tuesday morning, threatened to campaign against Flake in 2018 if he doesn't support background checks.
"Friendship is one thing, saving people's lives -- especially first-graders -- is another," Kelly said, according to reports, referencing the Sandy Hook Elementary murders of 26 people, most of them children.
One tactic under consideration: Persuade fence-sitting senators to support the amendment procedurally so it can be put to a simple-majority vote. Then just 51 ayes would be needed, not 60. Already, 16 Republicans voted with Democrats last week to move forward with debate on the bill procedurally.
The Toomey/Manchin amendment is considered an even heavier lift in the Republican-led House.
It has been introduced there and is co-sponsored by suburban Philadelphia Republican Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick, 8th District, and Patrick Meehan, 7th District.
While Rep. Charlie Dent, 15th District, is not a co-sponsor, his office said he'd likely vote for it if it came to a vote.
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