WASHINGTON - After two weeks in the national spotlight, Sen. Pat Toomey was ready to move on.

Toomey, seeming refreshed Thursday after the deflating defeat of his background-check plan the day before, greeted reporters with a smile as he rode an escalator up from the Capitol's subway platform. But the Pennsylvania Republican did not want to talk much about the fight that had put him at the center of the political and cultural maelstrom on gun laws.

"The Senate has spoken on this," Toomey said. "It's not obvious to me what alternative path forward there is. I gave this my best shot."

He had taken a risk in cosponsoring a bipartisan bill to expand background checks for gun purchases, defying his party and the National Rifle Association and stepping outside his preferred turf - fiscal policy.

His face had been on the front page of the New York Times, he had been sought out by Sunday morning talk shows, and he'd even been parodied on Saturday Night Live.

But needing 60 votes Wednesday, he came up short. His bill was blocked by fellow Republicans and a handful of Democrats.

That night, his voice was flat and weary. He said he had "no regrets."

The slender Toomey's burly partner on the bill, Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), sounded ready to keep brawling, even as most of Washington dusted itself off and moved on.

'A lost art'

"Pat stood tall and strong," Manchin said Thursday. He decried what he called "bold-faced" lies by opponents.

"This was real emotional," Manchin said, still wearing the green pin of Sandy Hook Promise, the group for families of children and adults slain in the Newtown, Conn., shooting in December.

Toomey had pleaded with GOP colleagues to read his bill, saying it had been subject to "wildly inaccurate" claims.

But Republicans repeatedly raised the specter of a national gun registry, even though the measure explicitly prohibited creation of such a list.

"I know reading's a lost art in Washington," Manchin said Thursday. "Either it's a lost art or you didn't have good fundamentals, wherever you came from, to read right."

He said he had not spoken with Toomey about what comes next. "I assume that we have ownership, whether you like it or not," Manchin said.

Indeed, these two weeks will indelibly mark Toomey's career.

Long known for his conservative fiscal credentials, he reached for the middle ground on a contentious social issue. Prominent Democrats such as Mayor Nutter and former Gov. Ed Rendell embraced him.

Political analysts say his move will win favor with suburban swing voters, keys to statewide election. He's not on the ballot again until 2016.

Yet Toomey may also face the wrath of the NRA, which endorsed him in 2010 but forcefully lobbied against his plan.

Other senators lauded his and Manchin's efforts - "an act that should be appreciated by those of us who many times avoid taking the tough decisions," John McCain (R., Ariz.) said Wednesday on the Senate floor. Bob Casey (D., Pa.), who backed new gun limits after the Newtown shootings, said a Republican's endorsement of a new gun bill marked "a breakthrough" on a day "when there wasn't much to be positive about."

Shifting focus

By Thursday afternoon, the gun debate was moving to the background, though, at least in Washington, even as Manchin and others vowed to continue the fight.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) pulled down a Democratic background-check bill, preserving it for possible consideration at some later date. A bipartisan plan on immigration legislation took center stage at a Capitol Hill news conference.

Off the Senate floor, Toomey spoke briefly to reporters, then politely excused himself to step into a lunch meeting with the same Republicans who had opposed his gun plan and rejected his efforts.

Later, he sent out a news release on a safer bipartisan push: a bill with Casey and Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.) to preserve more property at Gettysburg.

Toomey seems likely to return his focus to taxes and spending, though they are unlikely to get his name back on SNL.

One reporter sought his views on President Obama's recent outreach to senators on fiscal matters. Toomey called the talks "constructive."

"We're very far apart," he said, "but one thing's for sure: You never find common ground if you're not having a conversation."

Sometimes, even that's not enough.

Contact Jonathan Tamari

at jtamari@phillynews.com

or follow on Twitter @Jonathan Tamari. Read his blog, "Capitol Inq," at www.philly.com/CapitolInq.