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The prospects for expanding gun sale background checks have brightened significantly with the news that conservative senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) is now working on a bipartisan compromise.

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that Senator Toomey is now negotiating a background check deal with Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). Manchin, who is one of just six Democratic senators with an “A” grade from the National Rifle Association, has been desperately seeking Republican support for new gun safety regulations since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December.

According to the Post, “Manchin and Toomey are developing a measure to require background checks for all gun purchases except sales between close family members and some hunters.” The effort builds on Manchin’s previous negotiations with Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), which broke down due to Coburn’s insistence that a background check deal could not include any paper record of the sale — a deal-breaker for Senate Democrats.

Toomey’s support would be a major boost for any bill that seeks to strengthen gun safety laws. Several Senate Republicans — including right-wing favorites Mike Lee (R-UT), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Ted Cruz (R-TX) — have vowed to filibuster any attempts to bring gun reform legislation to the floor, meaning that 60 votes will likely be necessary to pass any bill. Toomey, who is a former president of the Club for Growth and is consistently rated as one of the most conservative members of the Senate, would provide significant political cover for Republicans to support expanded background checks.

Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) is the only other Republican to publicly push for a major expansion of gun sale background checks.

As Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan point out at The Fix, Toomey has good reason to push for a background check deal. The deeply conservative senator will be up for re-election in solidly blue Pennsylvania in 2016, and some bipartisan credentials could go a long way in what will likely be a difficult race. Expanding gun sale background checks, which is supported by about 90 percent of Americans, would be a good place to start.

Toomey wasn’t the only Republican trying to push gun reform forward over the weekend. Senator John McCain blasted his Republican colleagues’ filibuster plan on CBS’ Face The Nation Sunday, echoing President Barack Obama’s declaration that the victims of gun violence “deserve a vote.

“I don’t understand it,” Senator McCain said of the filibuster plan. “The purpose of the United States Senate is to debate and to vote and to let the people know where we stand.”

“Why not take it up and amend it and debate? The American people would profit from it. I don’t understand why United States senators want to block debate when the leader has said we can have amendments,” McCain added.

Although McCain opposes a filibuster, he has declined to say whether or not he would support a gun reform bill including background checks.

Despite the positive signals coming from the Senate, gun reform efforts still face an uphill battle. In order to pass a background check bill through the House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) would almost certainly have to violate the “Hastert Rule” (which dictates that the Speaker should not allow a vote on any bill unless it is supported by a majority of the majority party.) So far, Boehner has shown no indication that he would be willing to do so.

As the Senate continues to negotiate a gun deal behind closed doors, President Obama is continuing to rally public support for reform. On Monday evening the president will return to Connecticut for the first time since the immediate aftermath of the Newtown shooting, to push for tougher gun laws in a speech at the University of Hartford.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com

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