Romney: I might vote for the Toomey/Manchin background checks bill

Romney: I might vote for the Toomey/Manchin background checks bill

I’m trying to figure out how seriously to take this. On the one hand, he hasn’t even read the bill yet. If you’re willing to cross the Republican base on a cultural flashpoint, you might want to at least peruse the legislation before saying so. Why invite grief for yourself if you don’t need to?

On the other hand, this is a vivid example of just how insulated Romney is from the political pressures that most of his other colleagues in the Senate have to contend with. If you’re a Republican from a swing state who’s facing reelection next year, like Thom Tillis, you don’t utter a peep about gun control until Trump has taken a position. If POTUS endorses universal background checks then it’s safe for you to do so without risking a populist backlash, and not a moment sooner.

Romney, though? He doesn’t care. “Sure, I might vote for it,” he says, not bothering to wait to see what Trump will do or whether McConnell will even bring the bill to the floor. He won his Senate primary in Utah last year by more than 40 points and the general election by more than 30. Trump’s intentions don’t matter as much in Utah as in other red states either: A poll conducted there in July found 53 percent disapprove of his job performance. Combine that with the fact that expanded background checks polls at around 80-90 percent even among Republicans nationally and Romney likely regards this as a cost-free way to get out in front of the caucus on a hot legislative topic.

Another way of putting that is that maybe Mitt, like Beto O’Rourke, is in the “f*** it” phase of his career.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said Monday that he believes all commercial gun sales should be subject to a background check and signaled he’s open to supporting bipartisan legislation from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

“It certainly should be applied to commercial sales and finding a more comprehensive way to make sure that people are in the system that ought to be in the system,” Romney told reporters when asked about expanding background checks.

Asked if he would support legislation from Manchin and Toomey, which would expand gun background checks to all commercial sales, Romney said he had spoken with Toomey and was reviewing the bill.

“I’m looking at that. … Directionally, that is something I would support, but I have not read the legislation. That is something I would have to look at before I signed on,” Romney added.

The only two Republicans in the Senate who voted for Toomey/Manchin when it came to the floor in 2013 were Susan Collins and Toomey himself, notes the Hill. Add Romney to that if you like. That’s 50 votes even, assuming that all 47 Democrats vote yes. (A very safe bet.) Schumer needs 10 more Republicans to beat a filibuster. Where on earth are those votes coming from?

Potentially they’d come from Trump. If POTUS endorses expanded background checks, that would give the Tillises of the world political cover to vote yes — in theory. In practice, I wonder if even reliable Trump toadies like him would dare risk alienating gun-rights supporters by supporting the president. Normally it’s safe for Senate Republicans to take a position pro or con on a given issue so long as King Donald holds the same position. In this case, Trump endorsing background checks might trigger a small but meaningful backlash on the right that would endanger GOPers like Tillis who sided with him. The safe play in this case for a senator who’s up for reelection might be to oppose expanded background checks no matter what Trump does.

But Trump’s unlikely to support it either. Remember, the Trump campaign allegedly polled the issue of gun-control legislation recently and found that it would be “politically problematic” for the president with his base if he got behind gun control, although they’ve been coy in refusing to provide hard numbers or even to say what public opinion looks like on different proposals. (No doubt background checks are much less controversial than a mandatory buyback program.) Trump himself continues to dither on it, likely torn between wanting to gratify the 90 percent of the public likes the idea and not wanting to enrage the 10 percent that really, really hates it. In the end he’ll stick with the latter: Trump’s strategy is always to double down on his base in the belief that they have the numbers to out-vote Democrats next fall and that he can’t afford to alienate anyone who’s already in his corner when his job approval is stuck permanently at 42 percent or so.

Trump himself has been nearly impossible to pin down on the issue. Top GOP leaders in the House and Senate — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Whip John Thune, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise — will meet with Trump on Tuesday to discuss the fall agenda, according to three sources familiar with the meeting. That gives Republicans the opportunity to hear the latest from the president himself…

McConnell made clear on Monday afternoon that the Senate’s focus this month will be on spending bills to avoid a shutdown on Sept. 30 and fund the government into next fall, a potential setback to moving quickly on gun legislation in the wake of several recent mass shootings. McConnell did not mention gun legislation, though he has said in previous media appearances the Senate will consider whatever the president will sign.

Romney, meanwhile, has been telling newspapers back home in Utah that expanded background checks and a ban on bump stocks are the two gun-control measures he might conceivably support. Nothing else can pass anyway. He also says he’s been in touch with Toomey to make sure that the bill would accommodate rural gun-buyers who might face hardship having to travel for a background check before a purchase and was assured that it would. Nothing’s happening without McConnell, though — and as far as McConnell’s concerned, nothing’s happening without Trump: “I said several weeks ago that if the President took a position on a bill so that we knew we would actually be making a law and not just having serial votes, I’d be happy to put it on the floor.” The guy’s not going to put his caucus through a tough vote that’s destined to piss off one group of voters or another unless he knows up front that that legislation will become law. If Trump wants to commit to that in advance, that’s one thing. If he refuses, forget it.

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