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Reid Sets Up Gun Background Check Debate

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Thursday that the base gun legislation on the Senate floor next month would include background checks and gun-trafficking language as well as school safety provisions.

In a statement Thursday evening, the Nevada Democrat highlighted the importance of having enhanced background checks in the bill that eventually passes the Senate, whether through language from the Senate Judiciary Committee or a bipartisan compromise.

“I hope negotiations will continue over the upcoming break to reach a bipartisan compromise on background checks, and I am hopeful that they will succeed. If a compromise is reached, I am open to including it in the base bill,” Reid said in a statement. “But I want to be clear: In order to be effective, any bill that passes the Senate must include background checks.”

The move appeared aimed at spurring a bipartisan group of senators to rapidly conclude their talks on background checks. Those senators include Democrats Charles E. Schumer of New York and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Republicans Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Mark S. Kirk of Illinois.

Reid is starting the procedural steps needed to introduce the bill Thursday and have it ready in the queue for floor action when senators return from a two-week break for Easter and Passover. That means the bill could come up as early as the week of April 8.

“The bill I advance tonight will serve as the basis for opening debate. Once debate begins, I will ensure that a ban on assault weapons, limits to high-capacity magazines and mental-health provisions receive votes, along with other amendments,” Reid said. “In his State of the Union address, President [Barack] Obama called for all of these provisions to receive votes, and I will ensure that they do.”

Senate Judiciary ranking member Charles E. Grassley was quick to criticize Reid’s announcement that the background check provisions would be included.

“It’s been my understanding that the gun-trafficking bill would be the baseline bill that the Senate would work from, so this seems to be a pretty big shift in strategy for the Majority Leader,” the Iowa Republican said in a statement. “Even the author of the background checks bill admitted his bill needed a lot of work before it went to the floor, so I don’t know how the Leader expects members to vote on an ever-changing piece of legislation that has yet to gain bipartisan support.”

Grassley and other Republicans previously opposed a move by Democrats to put the bill on the Judiciary Committee markup schedule before final text became available.

On the other hand, New Jersey Democratic Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg praised Reid’s commitment to a separate vote on an amendment that would bring back limitations of the size of firearm magazines.

“When this bill comes to the floor, the Senate will have a historic opportunity to make our families safer, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines,” Lautenberg said in his own statement.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was disappointed and frustrated earlier this week, when she learned from Reid that her bill to revive a prohibition on certain assault-style weapons would be left on the sidelines from the base measure. Reid, however, said he was not sure there would be even 40 votes for such language on the Senate floor, much less the 60 needed to avert a filibuster of it. Thus far, Democrats and Republicans have not been able to agree on background check language.

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