President Donald Trump has wavered on expanding background checks on gun sales — but the lead GOP sponsor of the effort says there’s still a better chance of succeeding than ever before.
In an interview Monday, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey said he spoke with Trump late last week and that the president is still “very interested” in moving forward with a proposal modeled off Toomey’s bipartisan bill with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). That legislation will likely have to be modified to attract more Republican support and will be more modest than the House-passed legislation to require universal background checks, according to senators involved in the issue.
Story Continued Below
Toomey echoed recent comments from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) that the effort is still an underdog one because it’s “almost always a less than even proposition to pass a major controversial piece of legislation through divided government.” Yet Toomey is feeling better about the state of play than at any time in the past six years.
“Fundamentally, [it’s] a difficult task. That being said, the chances are looking better than they have ever looked at any time, certainly, since Sen. Manchin and I first pushed for Manchin-Toomey back in 2013,” Toomey said.
The second-term senator has been fielding calls from other senators and White House staff in recent days to continue a conversation sparked by a trio of mass shootings this summer while the Senate is in recess. Trump has sent a flurry of mixed signals about legislation, but before he traveled to Europe over the weekend he said he would work with Congress to close loopholes and that “we are going to be doing background checks.”
Manchin and Toomey’s proposal would expand background checks to cover all commercial sales and close a loophole that allows buyers to evade background checks at gun shows. It represented a middle ground in 2013, but still failed to get 60 votes under opposition from most Republicans and a handful of Democrats.
Of the four Republicans who supported it, only Toomey and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) still serve in the Senate. A number of more junior GOP senators are interested in the legislation, but it may have to be narrowed further to win the support of enough Republicans in the Senate.
Democrats say they are willing to talk and are looking to Toomey and Trump to move votes, even if the legislation doesn’t go as far as they’d like.
“I’m willing to sit down and talk and hopefully I can signal to my colleagues that if I’m willing to sit down and talk that there must be something worth talking about,” Murphy told reporters on Friday. He said he had spoken frequently with Toomey in recent days: “Pat Toomey is willing to lead.”
Though the White House is planning to roll out proposals in the coming days, it’s still unclear when or if legislation will be introduced or voted on in the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has expressed openness to a debate, but there’s always the possibility the clamor for action will fade amid potential new controversies and a fast-approaching Sept. 30 deadline to fund the government.
“The president is unlikely to support completely universal background checks. But I think broadening the background checks that we apply now I think is still very possible,” Toomey said on Monday. “There are a lot of ways it can proceed. The important thing is to see if we can get a meeting of the minds on the substance.”