President Barack Obama did not mention the words "background checks" in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. And don't expect him to push for expanding federal background checks until after the 2014 elections, according to a top lawmaker on the issue.
Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., said Tuesday that, to his knowledge, there are no behind-the-scenes negotiations on gun control extending beyond Obama's brief comments in his speech Tuesday. After spending a significant amount of time speaking about gun control in 2013, weeks after a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, Obama glossed over gun control in 2014. Manchin said he believed the administration would wait until after the 2014 midterm elections.
"I think basically, the numbers are what they are right now. They'll probably wait until the 2014 election and see what happens," Manchin said.
Last spring, several in-cycle Senate Democrats, including Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska, voted against Manchin's bipartisan legislation with Republican Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania. Others, like Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, voted in favor of the agreement. Though voting against the majority of the party and the president could give vulnerable Senate Democrats some political cover, it gives them less when their group of red state Democrats are split.
Manchin said it still is possible for Congress to pursue legislation that would strengthen mental health provisions in federal law, but even the path to that seems unclear.
He still defends expanding the federal background check system, even if Obama seems to have dropped it publicly from his list of priorities.
"Well, here's the thing. It makes so much sense and it still does," Manchin said. "I come from a gun culture, as you know, and it still makes so much sense."
Here was the entirety of what Obama said on guns Tuesday night:
"Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day. I have seen the courage of parents, students, pastors, and police officers all over this country who say “we are not afraid,” and I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook."