Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday that he would need to have enough votes for any gun control legislation before bringing another bill to the floor, while leaving open the option for a narrower measure than the failed background check bill from earlier this year.
"We're going to move this up about as quickly as we can, but we've got to get the votes first. We don't have the votes," Reid told reporters in the Capitol, just a day after a mass shooting at Washington's Navy Yard claimed the lives of 13 people, including the shooter.
The Senate could not clear a 60-vote hurdle on a background check bill in April, falling five votes short. Reid was then asked whether he could support advancing a narrower, mental-health-related measure and the majority leader indicated he wasn't even sure there would be votes for such a bill but did not close the door to it, saying Congress should do "anything we can to help prevent" future mass shootings.
"I was asked, what about mental-health provisions, which is something we worked hard on. Sen. [Debbie] Stabenow worked really hard on that and that's something we'll look at, but I think to show how elementary this is ... we want to stop individuals with mental illness from buying guns. We want to stop people who are felons from being able to purchase a gun. That's what that's all about," Reid said, alluding to the popular-with-the-public background check provisions.
Other senators expressed a weariness about yet another mass shooting, yet a certain resignation to futility pervaded the Capitol, with lawmaker after lawmaker shrugging his shoulders at the idea of finding enough votes to pass a bill. Top Democrats Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, who chairs the committee of jurisdiction, seemed to think that Monday's shooting did not change the Senate vote calculus. Neither did No. 2 Democrat Richard J. Durbin.
Less-battle-hardened members tried to express optimism while acknowledging the realities of a divided Congress.
"We have 55 votes in the Senate. We had more than enough to pass it if it wasn't for a Republican filibuster," said Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn. "I don't know what will happen in the coming days, but Americans are not going to sit by and allow these mass shootings while we say absolute nothing here. It's unconscionable that we sit by and do nothing in Washington as 6,000 people have died across the country since Newtown, 13 more yesterday."
Meanwhile, Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas — one of the few Democratic nos on the original background check bill, said Tuesday he would look at the details of any proposal "when they are revealed."
Humberto Sanchez and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.