Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat and one of the co-sponsors of a measure to expand gun-purchase background checks to sales online and at gun shows, said that proponents do not have the votes to pass it Wednesday.
The development is a gigantic setback for gun-control advocates, who, after the Connecticut shooting rampage, had their eyes set on much more ambitious controls, such as bans on certain types of weapons and magazines and universal background checks on all gun sales.
President Obama has made campaign-style trips to sell the administration’s package, crafted by Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who has been Mr. Obama’s point man on the issue.
“We will not get the votes today,” said Mr. Manchin, according to NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell.
“If we just had 20 percent of our Republican colleagues — that’s not a heavy ask; that’s not a heavy lift — only 20 percent, that’s nine members, nine members. This thing would be home,” Mr. Manchin said. “And we’ll see. I’m hoping … I can’t understand it. I really can’t.”
And Jonathan Kott, a spokesman for the senator, said Mr. Manchin remains optimistic that if senators read the bill, they will support it.
“So far Senator Manchin has managed to garner support from an A-rated NRA member and three Republican senators as well as 90 percent of his own party,” Mr. Kott said. “With a record like that, I see no reason to bet against Senator Manchin today. He will continue to explain his bill to his colleagues and anyone with concerns until the minute they vote.”
Mr. Manchin said on the Senate floor Wednesday that he wasn’t sure he had the votes and that it would be close.
“I feel good. I feel I’m here for this purpose,” he said. “Whatever happens today will happen. I feel we’ve done a good job, and I just ask my colleagues to consider this before we vote sometime this afternoon.”
Prospects for the amendment, though, faded significantly Wednesday as Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican, and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota Democrat, both said they would not support it. Both had voted to move debate forward on the underlying legislation last week, which includes more far-reaching background-check language, stiff penalties for gun trafficking and straw purchasing, and provisions intended to bolster school safety.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has scheduled votes on eight other amendments to underlying gun legislation, including bans on certain types of guns and magazines.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, and other co-sponsors unveiled a substitute amendment Wednesday morning intended to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and address mental health and school safety, among other provisions.
Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, also announced his own amendment intended to replace the background-check provision from Mr. Manchin and Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, that would allow people to conduct self-checks through a consumer portal, among other measures.
Mr. Coburn said the fact that it contains provisions that anger special-interest groups on both sides is a sign of its strength.