Lawmakers on both sides of a proposal to expand gun-purchase background checks to sales online and at gun shows said Sunday that they don’t know whether it will pass — a hurdle that, if not cleared, likely would kill the prospects of significant gun control legislation on Capitol Hill.
The circumspect posturing underscores the sensitivity of negotiations on the issue and flies in the face of a long tradition of predetermined outcomes on Capitol Hill, even on high-profile legislation.
“I think it’s an open question as to whether or not we have the votes,” Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican and co-sponsor of the amendment, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I think it’s going to be close.”
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said his party hasn’t started formally counting votes on the measure, which was crafted by Mr. Toomey and Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat.
“We haven’t whipped it,” Mr. Durbin said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I can tell you this: When it gets down to it, we’ve got to ask the basic question, ‘Should we try to keep guns out of the hands of felons and people so mentally unstable they shouldn’t own a firearm?’ If the answer is ‘yes,’ Manchin-Toomey is a step in that direction.”
But any measure needs the support of at least a handful of Republicans in order to reach the 60-vote threshold that would quash a filibuster. Sen. Mark Kirk, Illinois Republican, is another co-sponsor of the amendment, and Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican, said over the weekend that she would support the proposal.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said Sunday that he is “very favorably disposed” toward the legislation.
Mr. McCain said the overwhelming majority of Americans want to strengthen the background-check system but that he still had questions about the Internet part of the amendment.
“But look, I appreciate their work,” he said on “State of the Union.” “The American people want to do what we can to prevent … tragedies, and there’s a lot more that needs to be done, particularly in the area of mental health.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama predicted on ABC’s “This Week” that the amendment wouldn’t pass the Senate, but his fellow Republican colleague Mike Lee of Utah said the outcome remains to be seen.
“It was introduced just the other day,” Mr. Lee said on NBC’s “Meet the Press. “It was interesting, it wasn’t introduced until after we had voted to proceed to the bill.”
Gun control advocates also have to watch Democrats such as Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, who indicated last week that he is opposed to the amendment. Other Senate Democrats, Mark Begich of Alaska of Mark L. Pryor of Arkansas, voted against a motion to move broader gun legislation forward for debate. If those positions hold on the Toomey-Manchin amendment, at least eight Republicans would have to support the measure in order to break a potential filibuster.
Mr. Toomey said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the co-sponsors are confident they have the support of other Republicans, but he did not want his remarks to precede their announcements.
So how many votes do they have?
“Well, we’re close. We need more,” Mr. Manchin said.