Manchin, left, and Toomey speak at a news conference about their bipartisan agreement on background checks. Co-sponsors Schumer and Kirk were not present for the announcement.
Four senators may have signed on to a gun background check deal Wednesday, but only two showed up for the news conference — in part because Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey’s public support for the bill hinged on not having to stand next to Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York.
The background check bill, which would close the gun show loophole and expand checks to online sales, is officially co-sponsored by Schumer; Toomey; Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va.; and Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill. But only Toomey and Manchin appeared before the cameras. Toomey, the former Club for Growth president, had told Manchin he would not speak at the news conference if he had to get on stage with Schumer, according to two sources familiar with the talks. Schumer obliged, and Kirk also agreed not to appear in order to provide cover to Schumer.
“Manchin and Toomey are the best people to sell this agreement to the pro-gun community, and Schumer doesn’t want to get in the way of that. His job is to persuade the gun safety groups that it’s an acceptable deal,” a Democratic aide said of the group’s dynamic.
The aide added that Schumer on Wednesday morning called Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Mark Kelly, a gun control advocate who is the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, to encourage them to support the deal. And indeed, Giffords’ group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, did put out a statement Wednesday saying it was “pleased” with the agreement “that respects our 2nd Amendment rights.”
A spokesman for Toomey did not immediately respond for comment.
There was some apprehension from both sides that Schumer would become the face of the bill, which could effectively negate the conservative credentials Toomey brings to the table. And perhaps those fears were founded, because before the 11 a.m. Toomey-Manchin news conference, Heritage Action warned against supporting the background check measure, blasting an email “Senators Won’t Get Pass on Toomey-Schumer-Manchin.”
“Legislation drafted behind closed doors and rushed to the Senate floor has no place in our political system. We expect this type of deal making from Joe Manchin and also from Chuck Schumer, who supports the ‘universal registration’ of firearms. However, we expect more from Pat Toomey and, more importantly, so do his constituents,” the statement read.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.