Senate Democrats have set Thursday as the date for the first major gun showdown in Congress since the Connecticut school shootings, saying they will put their gun control bill on the chamber floor and dare Republicans to filibuster it.
At least nine Republicans have signaled that they will vote with Democrats to bring the bill to the floor, but it’s unclear whether Democrats will be united. If the bill doesn’t get 60 votes, the chamber won’t be able to begin debating it — much less see it through to passage.
“We’re moving forward on this bill. The American people deserve a vote on this legislation. And I’m going forward on this regardless of whether it’s a compromise or not,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, told reporters as he laid out his strategy Tuesday afternoon.
The vote Thursday will be the first in either chamber of Congress since the December rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which a young gunman massacred 20 students and six adults at the school.
President Obama has stepped up pressure for Congress to pass a broad set of gun controls, including banning military-style semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and universal background checks for all gun purchases.
But the bill Mr. Reid will bring to the floor doesn’t include the weapons and magazine bans. Instead, it expands background checks to encompass almost all private transfers, imposes new penalties on gun traffickers and “straw purchasers,” and allocates $40 million to bolster school safety.
Mr. Reid said he will allow the gun and magazine bans to be brought to the floor as amendments, where they will likely need 60 votes to pass — something neither is likely to achieve.
But Mr. Reid said Tuesday he isn’t sure he has the 60 votes needed just to overcome a filibuster. While nearly a dozen Republicans have signaled they are willing to buck their party and halt the filibuster, some Democrats could join the Republicans.
Democratic Sens. Max Baucus of Montana and Mark L. Pryor of Arkansas said Tuesday that they weren’t sure how they would vote.
“I’m going to wait and see what’s proposed — it’s that simple,” Mr. Baucus said.
Mr. Pryor said he wanted to see what was in the proposal and that he has informed Mr. Reid he might oppose a motion to invoke cloture.
“I haven’t made a final decision on that,” Mr. Pryor said. “I just don’t want to get committed on that without knowing what all the options are.”
There are 53 Democrats and two Democratic-leaning independents in the Senate. If they all vote to proceed, Mr. Reid would need to sway five Republicans to move forward, and more than that number have said they will oppose an effort to delay debate.
Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Mark Kirk of Illinois all had said they want a debate on the bill. On Tuesday, more Republicans began to come out against the potential filibuster, among them Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Susan M. Collins of Maine, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Dean Heller of Nevada.
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who is co-sponsoring a bipartisan measure intended to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, said he wants to see amendments first, but that he doesn’t support a filibuster just for the sake of blocking the bill.