Pa. Dems blast Toomey’s ‘confidential’ talks on background checks bill | Friday Morning Coffee

Sen. Pat Toomey. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

With Congress set to return to session next week, Democrats on Capitol Hill have been steadily ratcheting up the pressure on U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who’s said he won’t bring anti-gun violence measures to the floor unless he’s sure that they’ll net a signature from President Donald Trump.

One of the bills caught in that slipstream is legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Democratic U.S. Sen Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, that would expand background checks to all commercial gun sales (an important distinction, and more on that in a minute).

Signaling the depth of the emotion around this issue, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party is seizing on an interview that Toomey gave to Philadelphia radio host Dom Giordano on Thursday, in which he appeared to indicate that he’d been in “confidential” talks with the National Rifle Association about the background checks bill.

You can listen to the full interview below, but here’s the transcript of the relevant portion:

Giordano: “Do you believe there is enough support in the Senate, do you have a sense of that, and does it just depend now, essentially, on the president … that Mitch McConnell, if the president wants to do this, the NRA is in opposition to this still, unless you’ve had conversations where they’re willing to compromise?”

Toomey: “I don’t want to get into the details, because the conversations are confidential. But we’re talking about some variations and some tweaks that I think would get the president on board and that would help us bring enough Republicans to get to the 60 votes we need in the Senate. So I think it’s very unlikely that we will pass Manchin/Toomey in its original form, exactly as it was introduced, and as it was voted on back in 2013. That’s very unlikely. But there are a number of ways, a number of variations, and that’s what we’re discussing now, Dom.”

Image via Flickr Commons

In response, the state Democratic Party blasted out this statement to political reporters, charging that Toomey’s “background check bill already doesn’t do anything to stop the vast majority of criminals from obtaining guns and now he’s conspiring with the NRA to water the bill down even more. Pat Toomey would rather sell out to the NRA than take real action to prevent Pennsylvanians from being victims of mass shootings and gun violence,” spokeswoman Beth Melena said.

Reached for comment Thursday, Toomey’s spokesman, Steve Kelly, said the Lehigh Valley Republican wasn’t referring to the NRA when he answered Giordano’s question, but, rather, the conversations he’s had with Senate colleagues as he’s tried to drum up votes for the background checks bill.

“We’ve always said that we do not detail private conversations” between legislators, Kelly told the Capital-Star.

Kelly blistered Dems for their criticism, adding that Toomey is “the leading Republican on strengthening national gun safety laws. It’s why serious gun safety groups and other leaders on the issue like Manchin, [and Democratic U.S. Sens.] Chris Coons [of Delaware] and Chris Murphy [of Connecticut] are working with him to try and forge a path forward to keep guns away from those who shouldn’t have them. This obscene comment is yet another reminder that for the Pa. Dems, politics trump making progress on gun safety and saving lives.” 

A woman holds a sign in favor of extreme risk protection orders at a gun control rally in the Capitol rotunda. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Anti-gun violence advocates have been trying to convince Toomey to drop his proposal in favor of the Senate version of a background checks bill approved by the U.S. House earlier this year that they say is more comprehensive than the Toomey/Manchin bill.

“We’d like to move forward rather than backwards,” Shira Goodman, the executive director of gun-control advocacy group CeaseFire PA, told PennLive on Aug. 22. “It passed the House already so we would like to see him get behind the Senate version of that bill and see if we can get them to reconcile and get it to the president’s desk rather than go backwards to the older bill, which isn’t as strong.”

Speaking to Giordano Thursday, Toomey acknowledged the more limited scope of his bill, which would require background checks for gun show and online sales. It would not require background checks for private exchanges between, for instance, family members, spouses or work colleagues.

“What I want to do is make it harder for criminals and people who are dangerously mental ill,” to obtain guns, Toomey told Giordano. While no solution is a “panacea,” Toomey added that “it is possible to make it more difficult. I’m not going to support any measure to restrict the freedom of any citizen who does not have a dangerous mental health issue.”

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(Image via Flickr Commons)

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An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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