Tuesday, April 16, 2013 | 5:15 p.m.
Nevada Sen. Dean Heller will vote against the Manchin-Toomey amendment on gun control, his office announced Tuesday afternoon.
The announcement potentially seriously complicates Sen. Harry Reid’s efforts to get 60 senators to vote for what many have surmised is the best chance the Senate has to approve expanded background checks, an idea recent polls show has wide support — almost 90 percent — in the general populace.
“I believe very strongly that our current background check system needs strengthening and improving, particularly in areas that could keep guns out of the hands of felons and the mentally ill,” Heller said in his announcement. “At the same time, I cannot support legislation that infringes upon the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.”
Last week, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania struck a deal that would require background checks for all public sales of guns, but exempt private sales between friends and acquaintances. The change would close loopholes in the background checks law, such as that that exists for gun shows, where gun purchasers are not subjected to background checks before they are allowed to purchase firearms.
The compromise seemed to have a better chance of securing votes than the underlying Senate bill, which would have required background checks for inter-family firearm sales as well. Several Democrats — including Manchin — had said they could not vote for the underlying bill, absent the Manchin-Toomey amendment.
Heller voted last week to bring gun control up for a debate. But he stayed mum on whether he would support the key compromise on background checks, repeating that he believed background checks needed to be strengthened, but that he could not in good conscience support a bill that might lead to the creation of a national gun control registry.
On Tuesday, Heller decided the Manchin-Toomey compromise did not pass muster, despite its authors’ assurances that there would be severe penalties for anyone who tried to use data collected from background checks to cobble together anything resembling a gun registry.
“Despite the good faith efforts of Senators Manchin and Toomey, the onerus paperwork and expansion of federal power mandates in this legislation are too great of a concern,” Heller said in the statement. “I believe that this legislation could lead to the creation of a national gun registry and puts additional burdens on law-abiding citizens. For those reasons, I cannot vote for this legislation.”
With Heller out, Reid has very few options left to secure the requisite 60 votes to pass the Manchin-Toomey amendment.
Already, 11 of the 16 Republicans who voted to take up the gun debate in a 68-31 vote last week have said they will not vote for the Manchin-Toomey amendment. That figure includes Heller.
Only three of those 16 have pledged to vote for Manchin-Toomey, and two are undecided.
On the Democratic side of the aisle, no senators have yet said they will vote against the compromise amendment. But there are five Democratic senators who have not yet decided how they will vote.
There are currently 55 Democrats (or Democrat-leaning Independents) in the Senate. That means that in order to pass the Manchin-Toomey amendment, Reid would need all the undecided senators — Democrats and Republicans — to vote for the legislation. In addition, 89-year-old Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, who has missed the last few weeks of work due to reported physical ailments related to earlier cancer treatments, would have to return to Washington in time to cast a vote for the legislation.
Minutes before Heller announced he would not support the gun compromise, he had been in a meeting with the Nevada congressional delegation in the Capitol. In that meeting, Reid seemed optimistic about the progress on the gun bill.
“As I’m sure you know, we’re looking forward — I’m hoping to do a consent agreement tonight to start moving this forward,” Reid told reporters after the lawmakers’ discussions. “I think we’re there to start the debate.”
“Clearly Sen. Reid and I agree there needs to be a discussion on this, and that’s going to happen, so I think that’s positive,” Heller said after him.
Heller’s announcement, made via press release, came just minutes after that meeting disbanded. It was not immediately clear if he told Reid he would not support the amendment while they were together in the room.