10 senators to watch in the background check debate

Constitution Daily looks at the possible Senate swing votes on the contentious issue of background checks for some gun purchases, and the key players in the floor debate.

senators240The Senate might start the debate over a background check compromise proposed last week by two senators, Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, on Tuesday. That will mark the start of the official public debate over an issue that many see as the most meaningful change in a series of measures proposed after the Sandy Hook shootings.

Three other measures are currently seen as having a good chance of passing in the Senate: tougher measures against “straw” purchasers of guns used in crimes; more efforts to divert resources to mental health programs; and more funding for security for schools.

Currently, the Democrats have 53 votes in the Senate and two independent senators who usually vote with the Democrats. Most likely, 60 votes will be needed for any amendment to be added to legislation.

Two factors complicate the process: Some Democrats could split from the caucus, based on how they feel the issue affects their constituents, and any bill passed by the Senate still needs to be approved by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Three Democrats, Mark Begich, Heidi Heitkamp, and Mark Pryor, may not vote in favor of the Manchin-Toomey amendment. So the Democrats would need to get eight GOP senators to make up the difference.

Based on the reports coming out of Washington, here are the senators to watch as this very public discussion over the Second Amendment unravels this week.

1. Majority Leader Harry Reid. It will be up to Reid to manage the amendment process in the House and how (and when) votes are taken. With a filibuster and numerous other amendments possible, Reid will have the final say on how key parts of the debate proceed.

2. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Republican from Kentucky doesn’t support background checks in their current form. If McConnell changes his stance, possibly from the introduction of a rival background check proposed by a GOP senator, it could present some Democrats with a dilemma.

3. Max Baucus. The Democratic senator from Montana didn’t vote to block the gun control bill from going to the full Senate, but said he wouldn’t support it in the end. He didn’t comment on the Manchin-Toomey amendment.

4. Mary Landrieu. The Louisiana Democrat is expected to have a tough re-election battle. She told CNN recently that she supported background checks in theory but would vote to reflect her constituents’ wishes.

5. Susan Collins. The Maine Republican said over the weekend that she will vote to support the Manchin-Toomey background check amendment.

6. John McCain. The former presidential candidate from Arizona is on the fence and has supported background checks in the past. If McCain endorses the Manchin-Toomey amendment, he could bring several other Republicans with him.

7. Tom Coburn. The senator from Oklahoma has proposed an alternative amendment that would greatly limit record-keeping and give states the option to expand enforcement. Senator John Thune is rumored to be the lawmaker who will introduce the Coburn amendment.

8. Mark Kirk. The Illinois Republican publicly supported the Manchin-Toomey amendment last week, giving the bill another GOP vote.

9. Kay Hagan. The first-term North Carolina Democrat is being targeted in an ad campaign from Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun group. She has publicly supported background checks, but she also comes from a state that went to Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.

10. Pat Toomey. The Pennsylvania senator’s late entrance into bipartisan negotiations over background checks helped craft a compromise with Joe Manchin. Toomey is also making the rounds on news talk shows to discuss the amendment.

To be sure, other senators will have a public, vocal role in the debate process, from Democrat Chuck Schumer to Republicans Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. But the vote could come down to a bipartisan effort to influence some of the GOP members who opposed a filibuster, including Kelly Ayotte, Jeff Flake, and Dean Heller.

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