WASHINGTON - Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) hasn't given up on his bill to expand background checks for gun purchases, he said Thursday, signaling more willingness to return to the plan than he had publicly shown before.
"If we could find a way to bring some more folks on board, then of course it would be worth bringing it up again," Toomey said in an interview.
While he has largely returned his focus to the fiscal issues he has long been associated with, he said he still occasionally talked privately with fellow senators about the background-check bill that was defeated last month, and about potential changes that might win new support. But he has not heard of any opponents willing to switch their votes, he said, leaving the bill stuck short.
"I've had occasional conversations with my colleagues really ever since the vote," Toomey said. "There's nobody that I'm aware of that has indicated that they would change their vote."
Toomey stepped to the center of the charged debate on guns in April, when he cosponsored the plan to expand background checks only to see the bill fall six votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster threat.
"I would like to be able to persuade enough senators to change their votes to get to the 60 votes," Toomey said, "but I'm not aware of any senator that voted no and would now change that vote and vote yes."
He previously said that "the Senate has spoken" and that he did not see "an alternative path forward," leaving an impression that he was no longer working on the measure. His comments showed that he is open to returning to the issue.
He said he and his cosponsor, Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.), "have long indicated that we would be willing to consider a variety of potential changes if these changes would result in picking up votes. He and I are still of that frame of mind, but we have not been able to identify any specific" changes that would alter the outcome.
Manchin, who has been bullish about reviving the bill, and Toomey continue to talk.
The original plan would have expanded the federal background-checks law to cover sales online and at gun shows. It was blocked by Republicans and some Democrats who said it was unfair to law-abiding gun owners, would not stop mass shootings, and could lead to a national gun registry - even though the bill explicitly banned such a registry.
Since the bill's defeat, Toomey has said little about guns. Instead, he has spoken on the Senate floor about budget cuts and this week blocked what he saw as a costly plan tied to the national flood-insurance program.
Toomey may be helped by the political fallout from the failed vote. Advocates for tougher gun laws have kept pressing the issue, hoping to capitalize on broad national support for stronger background checks.
Some Republican senators who voted against the bill, most notably Arizona's Jeff Flake and New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte, have seen their poll numbers plummet and have become targets of groups pushing for tougher gun laws. Toomey's approval rating, meanwhile, has climbed.
Whether that translates to more success, he said, depends on "whether or not any of my colleagues would identify any specific change that would cause them to vote yes."
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