GOP plans replacement proposal as Toomey/Manchin background checks bill nears failure

As of 5:55 p.m. ET, WaPo said there were 53 yeses for T-M (assuming Frank Lautenberg is well enough to cast a vote tomorrow) and just seven undecideds remaining in the Senate. They have McCain listed as one of them, which is almost certainly incorrect, but the other six are legit: Ayotte, Baucus, Begich, Heitkamp, Landrieu, and Pryor. Ayotte, the lone Republican there, could single-handedly kill the bill by walking away (assuming none of the current no’s flips to yes), but better that she stays mum for the time being to make the five Democrats sweat a little. If she can wait them out until one of them joins the filibuster, then Republicans get to say that it was a Dem who finished off Toomey/Manchin. Ayotte won’t wait until the last minute — if the five Dems cave by committing to vote yes, leaving her as the last senator to decide, the media scrutiny of her will be excruciating — but hopefully she’ll at least give Baucus et al. a few hours to see if they’ll pull the plug first.

Is that the end for gun legislation? Not quite, per the Free Beacon:

The Democrat-controlled Senate is set to begin consideration of the Manchin/Toomey amendment Thursday, but a group of GOP senators has quietly drafted a replacement amendment, titled the “Protecting Communities and Preserving the Second Amendment Act of 2013.”…

The bill would establish a high-level federal task force to increase prosecution of gun violence in the country. It would also create a nationwide version of Project Exile, which shifts prosecution of gun crimes from state to federal courts.

Additionally, the act would “reauthorize and improve” the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Federal courts would be required to submit relevant information to NICS, and it would “ensure relevant mental health records” are submitted by states.

The bill would also “limit the Justice Department’s ability to conduct gun trafficking stings like ‘Operation Fast and Furious.'” Among the sponsors, incidentally: Ted Cruz, Chuck Grassley, and … Kelly Ayotte, which may mean that she’s a no on Toomey/Manchin and already has a new card to play. If you’re annoyed that the GOP would offer its own bill on this subject, don’t be: Ninety percent of the motivation, I assume, is to dare Democrats to vote it down in retaliation for Republicans voting down Reid’s bills. Once it fails, the GOP can cite it as evidence that each party rejected the other’s attempts to keep guns away from crazies. And if it passes, that neutralizes Obama’s 2014 talking point that Republicans won’t lift a finger to improve gun laws; after all, it’ll be the GOP’s bill that will have finally passed Congress and been signed into law — assuming that Obama doesn’t end up vetoing it in annoyance, which would be too funny.

Don’t assume that T-M’s completely finished yet, though. Manchin and Toomey have been busy softening parts of it to try to attract more GOP/Blue Dog votes, and the focus on Boston has given gun-control advocates more time to lobby wary senators. Things could change overnight.

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