Jeff Flake hints: I'll support expanded background checks in return for changes on Internet sales

A week ago, he noted on his Facebook page that his poll numbers after voting no on Toomey/Manchin put him somewhere south of “pond scum.” Today, this.

He won’t face the voters again for five and a half years, but he shares a home state with Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly. They can hurt him by campaigning against him in 2018 more than they can anyone else in the Senate. No wonder he’s looking for ways to flip:

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake told CNN he is willing to reverse his opposition to expanding background checks for guns if the Senate sponsors change on the bill’s provision dealing with internet sales…

He said under the measure as written, if a gun owner sends a few friends a text or email asking if they want to buy their gun, or posts it on their Facebook page, “that is considered a commercial sale.”

For people in rural areas in his state and others, he said that becomes inconvenient and costly…

Some Republicans opposed the measure out of fear that expanding background checks would put the country on a path to a national gun registry, but Flake said that is not his concern.

If Flake flips, that’s 55 votes for Toomey/Manchin. Johnny Isakson also allegedly told a gun-control activist yesterday that he’s “having conversations” with T&M to improve their bill, but when pressed on that by reporters, his spokesman claimed the bill “would have to be significantly reworked” to get his vote. Even so, Democrats are whispering that two Republicans have approached them to restart debate on it; assuming that Flake is one of them, that means there are potentially 56 votes for the taking. But wait, we’re not done:

“Joe Manchin called me yesterday,” Reid said. “He thinks he has a couple more votes. The one senator, Republican Senator from New Hampshire [Kelly Ayotte], has been — wham, man has she been hit hard. She’s the only senator in the northeast to vote against background checks. She went from a hugely positive number in New Hampshire — her negatives now outweigh her positives. She is being hit every place she goes. So we are going to pick up some more votes. I may be able to get another Democrat or two. That would get us up to 57. We may only need three additional Republicans. So we’ll see.”

If Reid can get two more Democrats, that makes 58 votes — tantalizingly close to 60, with Kelly Ayotte suddenly under even more pressure to flip and break the filibuster. She has an op-ed out today, in fact, insisting that she does support background checks but reiterating that “we shouldn’t be expanding a flawed system. The focus should be on fixing the existing system, which criminals are flouting.” Whether that means she’s resolved to stick to her guns by opposing T-M or whether she’s merely floating a trial balloon here to see if it’s enough to get gun-control fans to back off, we’ll see.

Even if Ayotte flips, Reid will still need one more. Politico has a fun piece today about Democrats whining that their pal Mike Bloomberg won’t leave poor Mark Pryor alone and focus on attacking pro-gun Republicans instead, but I wonder if that calculus will change if/when they’re a vote away from passing Toomey/Manchin. In that case, they can use a little extra arm-twisting. What I don’t get, though, is why Bloomberg’s group would attack Pryor with its own ads rather than fund local gun-control groups to do it for them. Having a big-city blue-state alliance like Mayors Against Illegal Guns dumping on him makes it easy for Pryor to dismiss them as outsiders meddling in a southern state’s affairs. Get a bunch of liberals from Little Rock to form “Razorbacks Against Self-Defense” or whatever and make them the front man.

Here’s what MAIG’s up to with Ayotte in New Hampshire.