Pat Toomey: Gun control’s unlikely savior?

April 8, 2013

Reports Sunday cast Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey in a seemingly unlikely role: the man who might save the gun control bill.

Toomey, as The Washington Post's Greg Sargent reported last week, is currently in talks with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) about a deal on expanded background checks -- an effort that comes amid concerns from gun control advocates that the best chance to significantly alter gun rights in more than a decade was disappearing.


Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey

That Toomey is involved in these talks in the final days -- or at least what most people expect to be the final days -- of the debate over gun legislation, is telling.

He rose to national prominence as a conservative icon, nearly knocking off Sen. Arlen Specter in a Republican primary in 2004 and then spending the rest of the decade chairing the Club For Growth, a leading fiscal conservative organization.

And, since winning an open seat in 2010, Toomey has been among the most conservative members -- by voting record -- in the Senate.  In 2012, Toomey was ranked as the fourth most conservative Senator by National Journal -- behind only Jim Risch (Idaho), John Cornyn (Texas) and Jim DeMint (S.C.). In 2011, Toomey was the 18th most conservative Senator.

So, why is Toomey involved in talks on background checks? Because, at his core, Toomey is not a pure ideologue but rather a political survivor. Prior to running against Specter in 2004, Toomey spent three terms representing a swing-ish House seat in northeastern Pennsylvania. And, while he clearly touted his conservative bona fides when he ran against Specter in 2004, he cast himself much more as a pragmatic pol during his 2010 win.

Toomey understands then that to win in 2016 -- a presidential year in a state where a Republican nominee has not won since 1988 -- he has to demonstrate some cross-aisle cooperation. And, while much of the middle section of Pennsylvania is filled with hunters who prize their gun rights, the votes Toomey needs are in the Philadelphia suburbs where voters are much more likely to support gun restrictions. Being involved in what will almost certainly be cast as a "common sense" deal -- if a deal is struck -- is great politics for Toomey.

The question is how many other Republicans in the Senate and House make the same political calculation that Toomey quite clearly has done.

Fixbits:

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) says the "Gang of Eight" is on track for an agreement on immigration reform by week's end. But there could still be a delay.

Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D) compared National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre to "the clowns at the circus."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) isn't a fan of some conservative senators' threats to filibuster gun control legislation.

A trio of senators called on China to step up its pressure on North Korea. One of them, McCain, also warned of accidental war with North Korea.

White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said House Republicans are proposing the  "Romney economic plan."

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) will speak at Howard University on Wednesday about the GOP's outreach to younger voters and minority groups.

Bill Clinton said he thinks "America will have some very good choices for president."

Secretary of State John Kerry's departure for his Middle East trip was briefly delayed Saturday by plane technical trouble.

Meanwhile, outside spending in the race to replace Kerry has hit $1.25 million.

Must-reads:

"Democrats push problem solvers in House contests" -- Paul Kane, Washington Post

"Gun legislation’s prospects improve" -- Philip Rucker and Ed O'Keefe, Washington Post

"Obama Must Walk Fine Line as Congress Takes Up Agenda" -- Jackie Calmes, New York Times

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Sean Sullivan | April 7, 2013