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When Democrats needed a partner to strike a deal with on a gun background check bill, Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey made a politically savvy move that could pay dividends both in future talks with Democrats and back home in Pennsylvania.
Toomey, a former House member and one-time president of the Club for Growth, was swept into the Senate as part of the tea party wave of 2010, tacking to the right on social issues to secure victory. But since arriving in the Senate, the Pennsylvania Republican — who sources say always has been more interested in fiscal issues — has emerged periodically to try to stake out bipartisan ground, first as the front man for targeted revenue increases as part of 2011’s supercommittee and again Wednesday, when he announced an agreement with three colleagues to close the gun show loophole and expand background checks to Internet gun sales.
In Pennsylvania, a state where suburban GOP strongholds are trending purple and blue and where a strong Democratic candidate for president could wreak havoc for Toomey down-ballot, pursuing pragmatic policy now could lay the foundation for a more middle-of-the-road re-election campaign in 2016. Even Democrats concede that in the Keystone State, good policy is good politics.
“Sometimes you have to believe — you don’t have to believe in the president, you don’t have to believe in Pat Toomey — but sometimes you have to believe in doing the right thing,” former Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman T.J. Rooney said. “Will [Toomey] benefit from it politically? Sure he will. But does he deserve credit? Of course he does. Any good, thoughtful piece of legislation is always going to help someone’s politics.”
Rooney pointed to the Philadelphia suburbs as an area where the deal could play especially well. The former party chief was meeting with Toomey on another issue Monday, shortly after news surfaced that the senator was in talks on background checks. Rooney said he thanked Toomey, telling him he knew “how difficult” bipartisan talks can be and “the political courage” it takes to enter them.
Toomey was careful to frame his support of the background check measure Wednesday as a “common sense” solution that would not infringe on gun owners’ rights. He also was very involved in managing the optics surrounding the bill’s rollout, as CQ Roll Call reported Wednesday, demanding that he not appear on stage with one of the bill’s other co-sponsors, Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer, for fear of further alienating conservatives and gun rights advocates.