WASHINGTON — The Senate's top Democrat has set Congress' first showdown vote for Thursday on President Barack Obama's gun control drive as a small but mounting number of Republicans appear willing to buck a conservative effort to prevent debate from even beginning.
Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada announced his decision Tuesday as the White House, congressional Democrats and relatives of the victims of December's mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., amped up pressure on GOP lawmakers to allow debate and votes on gun control proposals. Twenty first-graders and six educators were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School, turning gun control into a top-tier national issue.
Meanwhile, participants from both parties said a bipartisan deal was imminent on expanding required federal background checks to gun purchases conducted at gun shows and online. The two chief negotiators, Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., are expected to announce the compromise today.
Manchin and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters late Tuesday that a deal was close. A Toomey aide said the same, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss closed-door bargaining.
An agreement on background checks — the cornerstone of Obama's plan to restrict firearms — could boost bipartisan support for the overall effort, at least initially, because Manchin and Toomey are among their parties' most conservative members. But the ultimate fate of gun legislation remains unclear, clouded by opposition from many Republicans and moderate Democrats in the Democratic-led Senate and the GOP-run House.
Eleven Sandy Hook family members representing eight of the shooting victims were on Capitol Hill to lobby senators from both parties for gun legislation.
"We bring a very personal perspective," said Mark Barden, who lost his 7-year-old son, Daniel. "People should listen to what we have to say and move the debate forward. It's not just about our tragedy. Lots of kids are killed every day in this nation. We have to help lead the change."