Manchin likely to prevent new gun control

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin is the most powerful man in the United States Senate. While he doesn’t hold a leadership role, the Senate’s 50-50 split means the relatively conservative Democrat has a lot of hold over what has a shot of passing and what doesn’t.

And on gun control, he hasn’t really budged on much.

Now, in the wake of Buffalo, Senate Democrats want to hold a vote for gun control. The problem for them is that Manchin isn’t on board with their plans.

A racially motivated mass shooting in Buffalo is putting new pressure on Democrats to consider gun-control legislation — but once again centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is emerging as a problem.

Manchin says the pared-down Manchin-Toomey proposal to expand background checks, which he helped negotiate in hope of getting support from the National Rifle Association in 2013, is the only reform that has a chance of passing the 50-50 Senate, undercutting Democrats’ hopes of passing broader legislation.

While more ambitious proposals to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines never had a chance of getting 60 votes in the Senate, Democrats hoped to at least unify their caucus behind the background checks legislation passed by the House last year.

But Manchin on Tuesday said his old proposal negotiated with the retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.) that could expand background checks for commercial transactions is the best option.

“I support the Manchin-Toomey, I’ve always done that,” he said. “The Manchin-Toomey is the one. I think if you can’t get that one, then why try to do something just for basically voting for the sake of voting?”

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Machin-Toomey has a hope in hell of making it through a filibuster, either.

However, he’s right that it’s the bill with the best chance of passing an actual vote, but just barely. Yet if that isn’t the bill that will be up for a vote, I don’t actually see a background check bill going anywhere.

This is what I mean by Manchin’s power. He can ultimately dictate what bills go where in the Senate because he’s damn near the only Democrat not interested in voting in lockstep. Then again, he’s from West Virginia and the only Democrat to hold statewide office there. He can’t vote in lockstep with other Democrats if he wants to have a hope in hell of holding onto his job.

And that’s the saving grace of the moment because if Manchin did decide to move in lockstep, the only thing that would protect our Second Amendment rights would be the filibuster. I wouldn’t want to trust everything to that if I didn’t have to.

Thankfully, we don’t.

The truth of the matter is that while this push is happening because of Buffalo, a universal background check law wouldn’t actually have made an impact. New York already has one and, as we can see, it did nothing to stop the shooter from obtaining a firearm.

So why try and vote on something that, frankly, isn’t going to pass anyway? Theater. They need to put on a performance so they can tell their base that they tried.

And thankfully, Manchin isn’t playing that particular game.

My concern, though, is that they decide to play along with the West Virginia Democrat and can somehow get 10 Republicans to agree to allow it to come up for a vote.

We’ll have to see on that front.