Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., forged a bipartisan compromise to expand background checks on gun purchases.
(Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, AP)
WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - An angry President Obama criticized a minority of the Senate on
Wednesday who helped defeat a proposal to expand background checks on
gun purchases, which was seen as the core of legislative efforts to curb
massacres such as the one at a Connecticut school in December.
in all this was a pretty shameful day for Washington," Obama said in
the Rose Garden, flanked by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and
the family of a child killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown,
Just hours before, the Senate voted 54-46 to defeat an
amendment by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa. on
tougher background checks. Sixty votes were necessary to get around a
filibuster - a tall order because it meant drawing on Republican support
to make up for losing majority-party Democrats.
Democratic senators from red states who are up for re-election in 2014
-- Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska
-- voted against the background checks proposal. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of
North Dakota also voted "no," as did Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Four GOP senators -- Toomey, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Susan
Collins of Maine and John McCain of Arizona -- crossed party lines to
support the measure.
Reid's vote was procedural. It will allow
him to bring up the background checks measure again if supporters
believe they can get enough votes.
In a surprise, ailing Sen.
Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., appeared in the chamber for the first time in
weeks to cast an "aye" vote. He has been battling muscle weakness and
fatigue, and came to the Senate floor in a wheelchair.
After the vote, the National Rifle Association called the background checks proposal "misguided."
amendment would have criminalized certain private transfers of firearms
between honest citizens, requiring lifelong friends, neighbors and some
family members to get federal government permission to exercise a
fundamental right or face prosecution," said Chris W. Cox, the NRA's
chief lobbyist. "As we have noted previously, expanding background
checks, at gun shows or elsewhere, will not reduce violent crime or keep
our kids safe in their schools."
In a sign of the importance of
the gun debate, Vice President Biden presided over the chamber during
the vote on background checks. In an online chat with mayors, he seemed
to acknowledge it would be a long shot but vowed to keep pressing for
gun control measures.
"I can assure you one thing: We're going to
get this eventually," Biden said. "If we don't get it today, we'll get
it eventually. I think the American people are way ahead of their
Before the vote, Manchin pleaded with his
colleagues to remember the 26 people who died Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook
Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
"If you want to remember those
20 babies -- beautiful children -- and the six brave teachers ... and
you want to honor the most courageous family members I have ever met,
please vote for this bill," he said.
The Senate will now take
votes on other amendments, including one to ban assault weapons and
limit the size of magazine clips, as well as a package of legislation
addressing mental health issues.
A substitute plan by Sen. Chuck
Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would tighten the
background check database but not expand the types of sales subject to
it was defeated. A measure by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Susan
Collins, R-Maine, to toughen rules on gun trafficking was also rejected.
During Wednesday's debate, Manchin held up his NRA membership
card in the Senate chamber and called out the gun lobby for "lies" about
what his measure would do. Specifically, he said, the gun lobby had
inaccurately claimed the amendment would criminalize the transfer of
guns to friends and family members.
"Where I come from, West
Virginia, I don't know how to put the words any plainer than this: That
is a lie. That is simply a lie," he said. "It's not a universal
The expanded background checks would have
extended to purchases made at gun shows and on the Internet. Reid said
Wednesday morning that the bill would not create a national registry of
guns or gun owners and derided such claims as "nothing but shameful
Earlier in the day, a pro-gun rights group
withdrew its support for the background checks proposal. The Citizens
Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms said it could no longer
support the amendment because it did not have adequate provisions to
make sure people could have their gun rights restored if, for example, a
conviction were expunged.
Gregory Korte and Catalina Camia, USA TODAY