There’s a panoply of reasons for the failure of the Manchin-Toomey background-check amendment yesterday (including Arkansas, Alaska, Montana, and 2014, to name a few). But some behind-the-scenes wrangling helped turn an afternoon of gridlock into what many Republicans consider a big win, especially for Texas freshman Ted Cruz.
GOP insiders tell National Review that the Cruz-Grassley amendment (which, as Katrina Trinko reported, aimed to reduce gun violence without curtailing Second Amendment rights) gave gun-control fence-sitters on both sides of the aisle some much needed cover, letting them vote in favor of something without butting up against gun-rights groups. (The NRA scored both votes.)
A GOP aide says Mitch McConnell worked hard to get that amendment (which he co-sponsored) to the floor, to ensure that the debate could be profitable for everyone involved. Aides say this made it easier for senators to vote against Toomey-Manchin. While it may not have changed anyone’s vote on Toomey-Manchin, it probably lowered a few senators’ blood pressure a bit.
The amendment also helped the Republican conference to coalesce. On gun control, there were two camps within the GOP: One consisted of people who didn’t want any vote on gun legislation and supported a filibuster, and the other was composed of lawmakers who were open to a floor vote and debate. That dispute came on top of existing tension in the caucus regarding guns. When senators Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Cruz sent their letter (during March recess) calling for a filibuster on any new gun restrictions, some conservatives felt marginalized, seeing it almost as a contest to see who could be the most anti-gun, one many Republicans didn’t want to enter.
So Cruz and Grassley’s amendment provided an important point of consensus. It helped the GOP put together a united front, and it gave them a new narrative — rather than just opposing Democrats, Senate Republicans were actually in favor of something. It also let Cruz position himself as a leader in consensus, rather than a filibuster-happy firebrand.
Senator Lindsey Graham described the Cruz-Grassley amendment to me as “huge” and as much more pragmatic than Manchin-Toomey. Manchin-Toomey drew only four Republican votes, but Cruz-Grassley drew support from nine Democrats, including a few who opposed the stricter amendment.