Senate Faces Gut Check on Gun Bill Deal

Toomey-Manchin deal on gun bill asks compromise of both parties.

The bill expanding background checks for gun purchases, authored by Sen. Joe Manchin (D- W.Va.), left, and Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.), may not have the votes to pass.

The bill expanding background checks for gun purchases, authored by Sen. Joe Manchin (D- W.Va.), left, and Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.), may not have the votes to pass.

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An immigration rally outside the U.S. Capitol was supposed to coincide with the "gang of eight" putting the finishing touches on immigration reform legislation, but the continuing saga over gun control is occupying all the Senate's time. And now, it is crunch time when Republicans and Democrats must decide whether they can support what both sides view as an imperfect compromise or whether they are willing to walk away from the first sweeping gun bill to make it to the floor in nearly two decades.

Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was supposed to brief his caucus on comprehensive immigration reform, but each lawmaker who exited the meeting echoed that guns, not what to do about illegal immigration, had become the focal point.

[READ: Gun Groups Not Happy With Toomey, Manchin Compromise]

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that he expected immigration reform to make its debut early next week when the gun debate had simmered down.

"We're out of time," McCain told reporters on the prospect of getting to immigration this week.

Meanwhile, Republicans indicated that they are still as skittish as ever to support a gun bill even with tea party darling Sen. Pat Toomey leading the charge.

"If it infringes on Second Amendment rights that is something I am just not going to be able to support, but I will have to take a look at it," says Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. "Senator Toomey is a very thoughtful member. Senator Manchin is as well, so I want to take a look at this."

The new legislation is a far cry from the "universal" background checks Democrats and the White House had hoped for, but the bill would close the so-called gun show loophole so that private sellers at gun shows would have to have a licensed firearm dealer run background checks on potential gun buyers. And the bill would put tighter restrictions on firearm purchases that occur online.

Liberal Democrats who have been championing gun rights for more than a decade were still unsure if they could accept such a small step forward.

[READ: Toomey-Manchin Compromise Could Mean Gun Bill Back On]

"I certainly like the idea of background checks being expanded," says Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., "But there were forces in the room that also expanded the rights of gun sellers and gun owners. ... I have to measure whether additional background checks are worth the price that has to be paid."

Others, such as Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was killed by a gunman on a Long Island commuter train in 1993, argues that the only way to get progress in Washington is to take small steps forward.

"It is very rare that you will get everything that you want here. I have been working on the background check bill for, God, 16 years. It doesn't matter if my name is on it or not. We work as a team. The whole thing is to get it through."

But while many indicated they were still on the fence, most agreed that it was time to move forward and debate the bill and they hoped the dozen senators who had promised to filibuster gun control legislation would back off and let a vote come to the floor of the Senate.

"The Senate is a place to debate. As far as I am concerned, me not being willing to defend the Second Amendment rights of Tennesseans on the Senate floor is like me joining the Grand Ole Opry and not being willing to sing," says Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. "I am going to read every one very skeptically and try to determine if they infringe on Second Amendment rights."

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said the outlook had improved Wednesday and that GOP senators were prepared to move forward. However, he was still undecided how he would vote.

"They have improved the product significantly from where it was, but there are still some problems," Thune said.

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