WASHINGTON— Senate Democrats set Congress’ first showdown vote on new gun restrictions for Thursday as a small but growing number of Republicans appeared willing to join them in opposing conservatives’ efforts to block debate from even starting.
Making it personal, relatives of victims of the Connecticut school shootings lobbied senators face-to-face at the Capitol on Tuesday in hopes of persuading enough Republicans to back a debate and votes on meaningful gun restrictions.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters Tuesday that he does not know if Democrats will get the 60 votes needed to break an effort by conservatives to prevent consideration of the legislation. But at least six Republicans have indicated an openness to begin debate. There are 53 Democrats and two independents who generally vote with them in the 100-member Senate, but some moderate Democratic senators might defect on an issue that provokes strong emotions among their constituents.
“It would be a real slap in the face to the American people not to do something on background checks, on school safety, on federal trafficking which everybody thinks is a good idea,” Reid said, mentioning the elements of the Democratic firearms measure.
A Senate vote to begin debating the legislation would be a temporary victory for President Barack Obama’s gun-control drive. It remains unclear, though, whether there are enough votes for final approval of the legislation.