Over breakfast today on Capitol Hill, Senator Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) told National Review that his legislation to expand background checks faces an uncertain future. “As we sit here this morning, we don’t have the votes,” he said.
“Now, there are enough undecided people that it’s still possible, but I’ll be the first to admit that there is a very, very narrow path to get to 60 votes,” Toomey said, in an interview hours before the bipartisan plan is scheduled to be considered.
“It’s disappointing when you put a lot of work into something, and you’re out there in a public way and it doesn’t come together,” he said. “It’s disappointing, but it’s part of this business.”
“I think we’ll lose very few Democrats,” he predicted. “The liberal Democrats have zero enthusiasm for this, and they hate the items in there for Second Amendment supporters. I give Senator [Chuck] Schumer credit for telling them to support it, even if they hate it, since it’s better than the system we have now.”
Toomey, who brokered the bill with Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a moderate Democrat, said early reports about the bill crippled its chances. He says the chatter about a national gun registry, though false, set off unhelpful alarms. Instead of carefully reading the bill, he said, many red-state Democrats and conservative Republicans dismissed it as federal overreach.
“Rumors came out that we were talking before we had a bill, and that led to a lot of misinformation,” he said. “Some people on the other side wildly mischaracterized what we were doing, and that got people really concerned, especially on this emotional issue.”
“It’s been tough because we’ve been under a lot of time pressure,” he continued. “We haven’t had the luxury of rolling this out the way we might have chosen, and if we had had that luxury, I don’t know if we would have ended up in a different place, but we might have done a little better.”
Toomey said President Obama has mostly left the whipping process to him and Manchin, but Obama did recently call him to share his support.
In the morning before the vote, Toomey said he would be huddling with the undecided senators, urging them to support the bill. But he’s not optimistic. “It’s going to be tough,” he said. “We’re going to be close, but it’s going to be tough.”