The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Morning Plum: How expanded background checks could pass the House

The Senate will vote today on starting debate on the new bipartisan compromise proposal to expand gun background checks, and all signs are that enough Republican Senators will vote Yes to break the filibuster being mounted by a bloc of far right Senators. The proposal then faces a long road that will be littered with procedural land mines, and final passage remains very far away. Beyond that is an even higher hurdle: The GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

But there is a narrow path to victory even in the House, according to GOP Rep. Peter King of New York, who plans to introduce a bill in the lower chamber that is very similar to the proposal rolled out yesterday by Senators Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin.

“The combination of having Manchin and Toomey as the main sponsors, and assuming it can pass the Senate with a significant majority, greatly increases the chances that it will attract enough Republican support to pass the House,” Rep. King told me in an interview. “If Pat Toomey can support it, most conservatives should be able to support it and should want to support it.”

King said he has been in talks with a number of House Republicans about joining the effort, and that he would be “aggressive” in pursuing them in the wake of the Toomey-Manchin announcement, which could help change the debate for some conservatives. Yesterday Toomey said there are a “substantial number” of House Republicans who support his proposal’s “general approach.”

All of this sounds like a real long shot, and in truth, it is. But it’s not impossible. Dave Wasserman, who closely tracks House races and districts for the Cook Political Report, points out that there are a number of districts with certain characteristics that make as many as a few dozen House Republicans potentially gettable on the proposal.

“These are the types of Republicans who come not just from suburban districts, but districts where the business community is the prevalent faction of the Republican base, as opposed to gun owning social conservatives,” Wasserman tells me. He cited 17 districts that went for Obama in 2012, as well as other ones in suburban Minneapolis, New Jersey, parts of California, and the Philadelphia suburbs (a key motivator for Toomey), as examples.

King, you may recall, helped pull together a coalition of several dozen House Republicans that broke with conservatives and passed aid to Hurricane Sandy victims earlier this year.

Wasserman noted that getting GOP support for background checks would be a “delicate sell.” But he pointed to another key factor: the NRA’s power to influence members of the House may be overstated. Whereas the Club for Growth is able to pressure Republicans hard on fiscal matters, Wasserman notes, “the capacity of the gun lobby to seriously primary Republicans who go the other direction on this issue may be more limited. That’s what could enable background checks to pass the House.”

Of course, all of this would require the House GOP leadership to allow a vote on the proposal. As Wasserman notes, the only way to pass this would likely be with mostly Democratic support, which would break the so-called “Hastert Rule” again, something GOP leaders might be very reluctant to do. But if enough Senate Republicans support the proposal, continued pressure on House Republicans to allow a vote for the sake of the Newtown families — who will be actively lobbying in the days ahead — could get very intense.

No question, a lot of things have to break in the right direction for all of this to happen. There’s a very long road from here to there. But this battle is not over yet.

* Yes, expanding background checks would reduce crime: The New York Times has an excellent piece of reporting detailing why loopholes in the background check system make it easier for criminals and the mentally ill to get guns. The piece aptly demonstrates that the GOP argument that we should only enforce current laws is premised on a false choice: We need to improve the current system of data sharing and close loopholes that prohibited people regularly exploit.

Meanwhile, Igor Volsky has a useful guide to the background check debate that debunks each piece of conservative mythology about it.

* Overwhelming public support for comprehensive immigration reform: This is interesting. A new NBC/WSJ poll finds that 64 percent of Americans strongly support or somewhat a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. But when respondents are also told that they would have to satisfy a number of conditions to get to citizenship — such as pay a fine and other steps — support jumps to 76 percent, with 39 percent strongly supporting it.

* Immigration reform inches forward: The Post reports on the immigration compromise the bipartisan Gang of Eight Senators will roll out today:

Federal authorities would be required to establish vast new border fences and surveillance as part of a bipartisan Senate plan aimed at allowing the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants to earn permanent residency and, potentially, citizenship, aides familiar with the proposal said Wednesday.

Still unclear: How the enforcement “triggers” — which may end up being necessary before the path to citizenship is activated — would work, and whether there is any trigger that is tough enough to satisfy conservatives.

* Senator Manchin in the spotlight: The Post has a good piece detailing the “gun rights” background of Senator Joe Manchin and documenting just how unlikely it was that he’d emerge as a key spokesman for gun reform. The power of the Manchin-Toomey alliance should not be overlooked. Having two NRA-allied Senators, one a Republican and the other a red state Democrat, making the common sense case for reform has the potential to shift the debate.

* Senator Toomey in the spotlight: Meanwhile, Senator Pat Toomey’s work on the background check compromise is earning him headlines like this in the local Pennsylvania press:

Gun proposal elevates Toomey to PA’s most valuable political asset: Analysis

Hopefully, other GOP Senators — and red state Dems, too — will take note of the positive attention that leading on this issue has rightfully earned for these two Senators.

* Public wants action on guns: A CNN poll finds a total of 71 percent think it’s either extremely or very important that government officials act on gun policy this year:

That’s substantially higher than the number of thought gun policy was important in previous years — a reflection of the amount of attention gun policy has gotten in the wake of December’s horrific shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, which left 20 young children and six adults dead.

So, no, public sentiment for action has not waned. This is a testament to the efforts by Obama and Dems to keep the need for action in the headlines, rather than letting public sentiment dissipate, as it has in so many other cases.

* Public thinks rich should pay more in taxes: A new Quinnipiac poll finds that a majority of Americans, 55 percent, think the wealthiest Americans pay less than “their fair share” in taxes. while only 24 percent say the number is about right. And 71 percent say Congress should close loopholes on the highest income Americans.

Conservatives love to scoff at the notion that the rich should pay “their fair share,” arguing that they already pay a large percentage of the tax burden and that the notion of “fairness” is silly and vague. Public disagrees.

* Jobless claims improve sharply: Steve Benen has it in chart form.

 * And the latest on McConnell and that “bugging”: A Mitch McConnell aide claims that the FBI has “several leads” into the alleged bugging of his campaign headquarters, which McConnell has accused “the left” of carrying out. This detail is interesting:

Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Daniel Logsdon urged the McConnell campaign Wednesday to make public results of any FBI investigation “in light of Sen. McConnell’s various conspiracy theories.” In response, [McConnell spokesman Jesse] Benton said any release of results from the investigation “would be left up to the FBI.”

What else?