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The cloture vote — if it still occurs in the wake of an agreement between Manchin and Toomey — dials up the pressure on Republicans to allow debate on the bill, even if they oppose it. But even before Reid’s announcement of the vote, there were signs of a significant fissure within the GOP ranks on the question of a filibuster.
At least seven Republicans expressed skepticism Tuesday about their GOP counterparts’ plan to prevent a debate. The seven are Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Susan Collins of Maine, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Their position stands in sharp contrast to the filibuster threat voiced by the 13 other Senate Republicans who sent a letter to Reid on Monday in which they vowed to block a motion to proceed to “any legislation that would serve as a vehicle for any additional gun restrictions.”
McConnell has taken a slightly different stance by saying he opposes cutting off debate on the gun legislation as it is currently written, though he could presumably choose to support it after the deal reached by Manchin and Toomey.
“I don’t fear the debate,” Graham said Tuesday. “I welcome the debate. That’s just me. I think I’m speaking for a wide number of people in the conference.”
If Graham and other anti-filibuster Republicans join with a united or near-united Democratic caucus, the 60-vote threshold on the motion to invoke cloture would be met.
While the whip count on the cloture vote appears to favor Democrats on the procedural vote, Reid warned that he may lose some of his own members — at least one of whom, Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, confirmed Tuesday that he is considering joining the GOP filibuster. Pryor faces one of the toughest re-election campaigns in the Senate next year.
“I want to see how this develops,” Pryor said, noting that he opposes the legislation as it is currently written. “I know that many senators are working to try to get some sort of compromise.”
Even if the cloture vote fails Thursday, Reid said he would continue to the bill under newly approved Senate rules that would allow him to bypass the procedural maneuver but require him to offer each party two amendments to the bill.
“I also alert everyone that if they don’t help me invoke cloture on this bill, we’re going to vote on these things anyway,” Reid told reporters. “It’ll take a little bit of time, but as I’ve said for months now, the American people deserve a vote on background checks, on federal trafficking, on safety in schools, on the size of clips and, yes, assault weapons, and of course mental health.”
Humberto Sanchez and Meredith Shiner contributed to this report.