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Manchin-Toomey Deal on Background Checks Facing Uphill Climb

Pat Toomey, Joe Manchin, Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly; photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and her husband Mark Kelly arrive at the Capitol Tuesday with Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., left, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call.

The Morning Line

Emotional appeals. A tense week on Capitol Hill. A moment of truth, for some.

The Senate on Wednesday will begin voting on a series of amendments to a sweeping gun control package. And most indications are that advocates for expanding a background check system for gun purchases — a key provision of the bill — are several senators short of their goal.

“We will not get the votes today,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell on Wednesday.

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Manchin said he has “over 90 percent” of Senate Democrats on board and needs just nine Republicans to join them to secure the 60 votes for his compromise measure. A statement released by his spokesman Wednesday morning said: “Senator Manchin remains optimistic and hopeful … I see no reason to bet against [him] today. He will continue to explain his bill to his colleagues and anyone with concerns until the minute they vote.”

But nine votes, at this point, seems impossible.

Still, the NRA is out with a last-minute ad urging senators to vote against expanded background checks. The spot mocks New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“Tell your senator listen to America’s police instead of listening to Obama and Bloomberg,” the narrator says.

Watch here or below.

The advocacy doesn’t stop there.

We hear that eyes were glistening during a party caucus meeting, as Manchin outlined the amendment forged with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. He asked some of the Democratic holdouts — including Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor and Alaska Sen. Mark Begich to back their measure.

Senators talked about gun-related tragedies in their states, from Newtown, Conn., to the Virginia Tech massacre.

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and her husband Mark Kelly were there too, highlighting the gun control movement’s urgency.

Vice President Joe Biden urged his former colleagues to deliver. Senators gave few details publicly, saying instead it was an “emotional” meeting. Roll Call’s Meredith Shiner and Jonathan Strong set the day’s scene:

Kelly and Giffords appeared before Senate Democrats — including six still undecided on the measure — at the caucus’s weekly policy lunch. They later addressed a bipartisan crowd at the dedication of a room in the Capitol Visitor Center to slain Giffords staffer Gabriel Zimmerman, one of six people shot and killed in the 2011 Arizona mass shooting that rendered Giffords incapable of continuing her congressional service.

The poignant ceremony was marked by moments of awkwardness, as Kelly noted in his remarks the destructive power of high-capacity magazines that Congress cannot find enough votes to restrict.

Giffords’ friend, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., was also at the ceremony, a day after he announced he could not support the bipartisan background check agreement.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who was one of three Republicans left on the board, announced he would not support the deal.

Kelly told reporters Tuesday that his group would work to replace the freshman senator if he votes “no” on gun legislation that would expand background checks, despite his strong friendship with Flake. He added that it seemed like Flake hadn’t read the proposal.

The Senate still plans to forge ahead.

Here’s the basic layout of the series of votes expected to begin Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET. Each needs 60 votes to pass.

  • Manchin-Toomey amendment on background checks

  • Limiting gun trafficking

  • Sen. John Cornyn’s amendment “to allow reciprocity for the carrying of certain concealed firearms.”

  • Assault weapons ban

  • Sen. Richard Burr’s amendment “to protect the Second Amendment rights of veterans and their families.”

  • Banning high-capacity magazines

  • Sen. John Barrasso’s amendment to withhold 5 percent of Community Oriented Policing Services program federal funding from States and local governments that release sensitive and confidential information on law-abiding gun owners and victims of domestic violence.

  • Sen. Tom Harkin and Sen. Lamar Alexander’s amendment relative to mental health.

Manchin and others have said that even if the background checks measure fails Wednesday, their push is far from over. They also hail the day’s events as momentous, given it’s been decades since any major gun legislation passed Congress.


The FBI continues to investigate the explosions in Boston, with as few answers as the day before.

President Barack Obama spoke Tuesday:

Given what we now know about what took place, the FBI is investigating it as an act of terrorism. Any time bombs are used to target innocent civilians it is an act of terror. What we don’t yet know, however, is who carried out this attack, or why; whether it was planned and executed by a terrorist organization, foreign or domestic, or was the act of a malevolent individual…

It will take time to follow every lead and determine what happened. But we will find out. We will find whoever harmed our citizens and we will bring them to justice. We also know this — the American people refuse to be terrorized.

He encouraged citizens to contact authorities if they see anything suspicious in the coming days and promised more updates once investigators learned more information. The White House also announced that Mr. Obama will speak Thursday at an interfaith service in Boston.

The NewsHour offered extensive coverage Tuesday of the situation.

Kwame Holman walked through the facts in a video piece, and Jeffrey Brown received updates from a public radio reporter in Boston.

Social media producer Colleen Shalby rounded up some of the tributes from news organizations, sports stars and others that have surfaced online.

Hari Sreenivasan spoke with the head of Massachusetts General Hospital’s emergency medicine, who described how the hospital has treated patients and noted that one trauma surgeon ran the marathon and then reported to the operating room.

That conversation is here or below:

Gwen Ifill spoke with a former investigator and a terrorism expert to gain fuller sense of the authorities’ approach. Science reporter-producer Jenny Marder pointed out in this blog post the bombs were likely homemade rather than military-grade or dynamite, because of the lighter color of their smoke. Watch Gwen’s conversation here or below.

Christina talked with Howard Kurtz and Lauren Ashburn from the Daily Download team about how the Internet became a place for both helping and healing, and found the world showing an outpouring of love for Boston.

If you’re curious about some of the Twitter and Facebook memes they mentioned, and ones they didn’t, this Snopes post explains the backstories.

Watch the segment here or below:

In a related story, one Boston Marathon runner used Facebook to try and help track down a couple who consoled her after the blast. They gave her their medal for crossing the finish line, and she wants to return it. And we highly recommend reading this incredible story from the New York Times’ Tim Rohan the before and after of the moment captured in one of the bombings’ most notable photos.


  • A letter addressed to Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., twice tested positive for the potentially fatal poison ricin, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., confirmed late Tuesday. Sen. Claire McCaskill told reporters Tuesday the person who sent the letter frequently writes to senators.

  • Bloomberg News reveals how White House homeland security and counterrorism adviser and Boston-area native Lisa Monaco handled news of the bombings with Mr. Obama, while receiving messages from home. National Journal’s Sara Sorcher also profiles Monaco, who’s been on the job about a month.

  • Mr. Obama will have dinner this time with a dozen Democratic senators at the Jefferson Hotel Wednesday night.

  • Opponents of the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill are reviving tactics that killed a 2007 bill, namely slowing the debate in order to introduce “poison pill” amendments to divide fragile bipartisan support.

  • The New York Times explains how Democratic senators formed the immigration Gang of Eight over jelly beans, pizza and chocolate-covered matzo, and in the Senate gym. Ashley Parker writes the full backstory.

  • Talking Points Memo’s Benjy Sarlin breaks down in detail the pathway to citizenship provisions in the immigration bill.

  • The American Conservative Union issued a positive statement about the bipartisan immigration legislation.

  • The Washington Post front-pages a story about Facebook flexing its political muscle on immigration reform.

  • Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Tuesday he won’t seek a conference committee to negotiate differences between the House and Senate budgets until lawmakers privately come closer together.

  • Don’t miss Ryan Reilly’s reporting and photos from Gitmo for Huffington Post.

  • In the first half of an interview with NBC’s “Today Show,” recorded Monday, Mr. Obama said the United States should be prepared for “every contingency out there” in regards to North Korea. The second half of the interview aired Wednesday.

  • Terry McAuliffe will skip the annual shad planking in Virginia this year. What’s a shad planking? We’re glad you asked.

  • Politico notices that some lawmakers tied the response in Boston to the sequester.

  • Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford is set to appear in family court just two days after South Carolina 1st Congressional District’s May 7 special election after trespassing on his ex-wife’s property, according to reports late Tuesday. “I am doing my best not to get in the way of his race. …I want him to sink or swim on his own…but he makes things difficult for me when he does things like trespassing,” said Jenny Sanford.

  • Four years after its debut, the tea party has declined in popularity, but not without having been co-opted by elements of the Republican Party that have left a mark on American politics, writes NBC’s Mark Murray.

  • On Tuesday, Virginia Tech observed the sixth anniversary of the deaths of 32 students and professors after a student opened fire in a classroom on the campus in 2007. Colin Goddard, one of the students who survived the attack has become a spokesman for efforts to expand background checks on gun sales. He recently spoke with Kwame Holman about this effort.

  • Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King’s meager first quarter haul of $93,000 is casting doubts on speculation he’s eyeing retiring Sen. Tom Harkin’s seat in 2014.

  • Chris Dodd, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, announced a campaign Tuesday to promote a change to ratings tags designed to give audiences more details on why a film received its “R,” “PG-13” or “PG” rating. Tags for trailers also will include content descriptors showing they have been approved to play with the feature film. The tweaks follow meetings in January that Dodd and John Fithian, chairman of the National Association of Theatre Owners, held with Biden as part of an effort to provide better information to parents about the level of violence in a movie. The Classification and Ratings Administration also has created a Twitter feed that provides a movie’s rating and describes the content that led to the rating.

  • Syria Deeply journalist Karen Leigh talked with Diane Foley, the mother of American journalist Jim Foley, who has been missing in Syria for five months.

  • More than 97,000 people think Nicholas Cage should be in possession of the Declaration of Independence.

  • This story about a New Hampshire Republican state lawmaker’s label for females also reads like a “What not to do.”

  • For a lighter moment, how about this NPR story on why we stand where we stand in a crowded elevator.


  • Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal outlined an interesting case argued before the Supreme Court Tuesday about tribal law, specifically the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, and child custody. The case has become known by the child’s name, Baby Veronica, and asks the Supreme Court to decide the dispute between the South Carolina family that intended to adopt her and her biological father, a man who is part Cherokee.

  • Hari and coordinating producer Elizabeth Summers covered the immigration debate from one man’s perspective as part of their series of conversations with individuals affected by policy. Hari spoke with South Carolina peach farmer Chalmers Carr in a Google Hangout.

  • The leader of the nation’s largest Hispanic Christian organization tells Hari he has “a sense of uber-optimism with an inner lining of prayerful caution” about the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform this year. Watch that conversation here.


Cassie M. Chew and politics desk assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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Correction: Sen. Joe Manchin told NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell on Wednesday, “We will not get the votes today” on the background checks amendment. Manchin did not make that statement on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”