WASHINGTON -- The Senate struggle over guns begins Wednesday, and even the easiest votes are going to be hard.
It once looked as if the bipartisan compromise measure to strengthen background checks would be able to smoothly attract the 60 votes needed to move through the Senate. Instead, the measures fate was uncertain Tuesday, stuck at around 52 votes, as gun rights supporters from both parties expressed concerns.
"We will not get the votes today," on background check compromise, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a chief sponsor of the background check measure, told NBC Wednesday. The Senate plans to take nine votes on a variety of gun measures starting at 4 p.m.
And thats just the start. In line for consideration are the big battles: a proposed assault weapons ban, extending concealed carry laws nationwide, limiting ammunition clips and more.
Its all part of the amendment process. In the Senate, anyone usually may offer any change to legislation and, if he or she can corral 60 votes to overcome procedural hurdles, achieve success.
Therein lies the problem gun-control advocates face: Its going to be hard to get 60 votes for anything. Exhibit A? The background-check compromise so delicately crafted last week by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa. It would extend background checks to gun shows and online sales but would exempt private transactions. At least four Republicans, including Toomey, support it, as do at least 49 Democrats.
This compromise legislation shouldnt be controversial, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Supporters were cautiously optimistic that they could get 60 senators behind them, but they pointed out that even if they only came close, it would be a victory of sorts.
The thinking is that if the measure receives 58 votes, pressure would be enormous on opposition senators to switch. Another vote could be taken later.
The pressure, though, would come from both sides. The National Rifle Association opposes the Manchin-Toomey amendment. So do most Republicans and a handful of Democrats. Other lawmakers are still sitting on the fence.
We didnt think it would be this difficult, said Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md.
Were not there today, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Tuesday.
Theres been some talk that the amendment might exempt gun buyers who live in remote rural areas, a change that may mollify some wavering senators.
Were working hard to try to get people to yes, Murphy said. Manchin-Toomey is not set in stone.
But an alternative backed by the NRA might siphon off votes. That amendment, sponsored by a group of conservatives who include Sens. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., would increase the number of mental-health records shared with the national background-check system but wouldnt extend the system to more transactions.
Both sides were hoping to harness their lobbying firepower to fight for other, tougher changes. Gun rights advocates are pushing hard for reciprocity, which would require states that dont allow concealed weapons to honor the concealed-carry permits of those that do.
Reid said he wanted to know more.
Concealed carry is like baseball. How are you going to vote on baseball? Its according to what its about. Concealed carry, its what kind of amendment it is, he said, so Ill take a look at all this.