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Will Senate vote on gun control? Untangling the politics of filibusters (+video)

The Senate will hold a vote on gun control legislation Thursday – but it's only to break a filibuster and allow debate to proceed. Will the bill actually become law? That's a different question.

By Staff writer / April 9, 2013

Sens. Chuck Schumer (D) of New York (l.) and Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia speak to reporters as they walk from the office of Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday after a meeting on gun control.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

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President Obama appears increasingly likely to get the very least of his demands on new national gun-control legislation: an open debate in the Senate on a package of firearms bills followed by a vote. What remains uncertain is what might pass in that vote and become law.

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Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada told reporters on Tuesday that he was scheduling a vote for Thursday to break a Republican filibuster. Several Republican senators, including Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, have vowed to block the bills. If 60 senators vote Thursday to end that filibuster, then the Senate can proceed with actually debating and amending the proposed bills.

That looks likely. Currently, nine Republicans have agreed to vote to stop a filibuster Thursday. With only a pair of potential Democratic defections expected, Senator Reid seems to have the 60 votes he needs to proceed.

From there, however, the prospects for the package to pass the Senate – much less the House – get more nuanced.

Measures to ban assault weapons or high-capacity magazines are almost certain to fail, while measures to stiffen penalties for straw purchases and gun trafficking and to increase school safety are likely to pass the Senate.

The outstanding question is whether the Senate can rally around universal background checks. Currently, the votes don't appear to be there, but Sen. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia and Sen. Pat Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania are negotiating a potential compromise amendment that could get bipartisan support.

In the meantime, the threat by Senator Paul and colleagues to block the progress of the bill is driving Senator Manchin batty. 

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