Just two days after President Biden’s call for an assault weapons ban, Senate Democrats are already splintering over how far their legislation should go.
On one side of the Democratic caucus, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has said he opposes House-passed legislation requiring universal background checks.
Instead, the moderate Democrat said he would prefer exemptions for sales made to family and friends.
Sen. John Tester of Montana, meanwhile, echoed Manchin’s concerns Wednesday, telling The Hill he also objected to the requirement being in place for family members transferring a weapon.
“Traditionally I support background checks. I don’t think that bill [allows] passing it down to your kids,” the red-state Democrat said, noting that he had not looked at the legislation closely. “That’s a problem.”
Tester also said he wasn’t “crazy about” the idea of Senate Democrats bringing assault weapons ban legislation to the floor for a vote.
Under current Senate rules, the House bill would need to pass the 60-vote threshold set by the legislative filibuster.
The current 50-50 split leaves Democrats in need of 10 Republicans to pass major legislation, which they don’t appear to have on any of the House-approved bills yet.
Democrats would need even more Republican lawmakers to cross the aisle in support of their bill if they lost both Manchin and Tester, which appears possible if the chamber doesn’t amend the legislation.
Excluding the two rural Democrats, the remainder of their Senate caucus is fully behind universal background checks, and a growing number are backing an assault weapons ban: 36 as of Thursday.
Still, without the entire Democratic caucus united and 10 defecting Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Majority Whip Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) chances of pushing through the House’s universal background checks bill as it is currently written appear unlikely.
The renewed focus on gun control comes after two deadly mass shootings occurred in the US in just under one week, in Atlanta and Boulder, Colo., which sparked Biden’s gun reform call.
Schumer and Durbin have still pledged to move forward with the background checks legislation, with the majority leader saying this week that unlike under Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), “This Senate will be different.”