WASHINGTON – Prospects for a bipartisan deal to expand federal background checks for gun purchases are improving with the emergence of fresh Republican support, according to top Senate aides.
The possibility that after weeks of stalled negotiations senators might be on the cusp of a breakthrough comes as President Obama and his top surrogates will begin today their most aggressive push yet to rally Americans around his gun-control agenda.
Even though polls show that a universal background check system is supported by nine in 10 Americans, the president has been unable to translate popular support for the measures into legislative momentum on Capitol Hill.
But in a move that could bring along other Republicans as well as Democrats from conservative states who have not yet backed Obamas agenda, Sen. Joe Manchin, W.Va., a key Democratic broker, has spent the past few days crafting the framework of a possible deal with Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa.
Manchin and Toomey are developing a measure to require background checks for all gun purchases except sales between close family members and some hunters, which addresses concerns of some conservatives, according to the aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about the talks.
Spokesmen for Manchin and Toomey said only that the senators are talking to many of their colleagues about gun legislation and could not confirm details of their discussions.
Toomey is usually a reliable conservative vote for Senate Republicans, but he faces re-election in a Democratic-leaning state in 2016. A new player in the months-long gun talks, he is one of several GOP senators who have said that they would be receptive to supporting an expanded background-check program if a bipartisan deal were to emerge.
As a former House lawmaker, Toomey remains close to House Republicans who represent the suburbs of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, some of whom have said that they are open to striking bipartisan compromises on gun legislation in part because support for new gun laws is strong in those areas of the state.