All Eyes on Toomey-Manchin Amendment as Reid's Gun Bill Advances

The 68-31 cloture vote this morning began consideration of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013, which was introduced March 21 and cobbles together a handful of gun-control bills from the 113th Congress: Sen. Pat Leahy's (D-Vt.) firearms trafficking bill, Mark Warner's (D-Va.) and Barbara Boxer's (D-Calif.) "campus safety enhancements," and Sen. Chuck Schumer's (D-N.Y.) universal background checks.

Even though the National Rifle Association was scoring today's cloture vote, a break with tradition for the NRA on a procedural vote, the more controversial aspect of the gun-control package has yet to come to the floor as an amendment -- and will be scored as well.

After the cloture vote on Reid's package, Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) wrapped up the language of their Public Safety And Second Amendment Rights Protection Act.

Reid reiterated his promise that it would be the first amendment to his bill offered on the floor next week. If passed, the language would replace Schumer's universal background checks in the final bill.

“It is important that the public and my colleagues in the Senate have ample opportunity to review and consider this important measure,” Toomey said. “Since a Senate vote is not expected until next week, everyone will have days to read and reflect on this legislation, and I welcome the their input.”

Toomey later released a letter from John C. Yoo, a former deputy assistant attorney general under George W. Bush and visiting scholar in constitutional law at the American Enterprise Institute, stating "the main provision of the Act poses no constitutional difficulties under the Second Amendment."

"The Act’s expansion of federal background checks should survive the first step of the Heller analysis," Yoo wrote. "...Indeed, the background check system would appear to be a vital mechanism to ensure that firearms sellers do not violate the terms of the national Gun Control Act. These restrictions have existed in federal law for 45 years and have not been constitutionally invalidated by the courts."

The bill says it will be offered as an amendment by Manchin for himself, Toomey, Schumer and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).

“I encourage all West Virginians, gun owners, NRA members and all Americans interested in fixing our culture of mass violence to read this bill,” Manchin said. “This bill simply prevents criminals and the dangerously mentally ill from purchasing guns while protecting our Second Amendment rights. This bipartisan, commonsense compromise closes the existing background check system’s loopholes by including all advertised commercial sales. It also protects gun sellers’ and gun owners’ rights."

“Senator Toomey and I are confident that if people take the time to read the details of this important legislation, there will be nationwide support," he added.

But even Republicans under fire for voting to move debate forward on Reid's bill tried to tamp down criticism by saying they had no intention of voting for the Toomey-Manchin amendment.

Republicans voting yes were Sens. Toomey, Kirk, Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Roger Wicker (Miss.), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Susan Collins (Maine), John McCain (Ariz.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Dean Heller (Nev.), John Hoeven (N.D.), and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.).

Touting his pre-cloture NRA "A" rating, Alexander said he'll be a "no" vote on the compromise language.

“I’ll examine each amendment to determine whether it strengthens or infringes upon our Second Amendment rights,” Alexander said. “The Toomey-Manchin proposal to expand background checks in my opinion doesn’t meet that test and I will vote against it.”

Graham said he welcomes debate on the gun-control bill, "and you should too."

"I have my own legislation, supported by the NRA, which I want to bring forward in the Senate. My legislation would make a real difference in keeping guns out of the wrong hands," he said.