PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey took to the floor of the Senate Wednesday afternoon to defend his scaled back bill to require background checks of some, but not all, gun purchases.
“This isn’t gun control. It’s common sense,” Toomey told his colleagues. “This is a modest measure to increase the chances that we can keep guns out of the hands of people who have no legal right to have a gun.”
Earlier today, Toomey predicted a majority of senators would support his effort — and that of his Democratic colleague West Virginia’s Joe Manchin — but maybe not the 60 senators required to pass because of the filibuster rule.
Turns out, Toomey was right.
“On this vote, the yeas are 54, the nays are 46,” intoned Vice President Joe Biden. “Under the previous order requiring 60 votes for the adoption of this amendment, the amendment is not agreed to.”
KDKA political editor Jon Delano asked folks in Market Square if they knew what a filibuster was.
“I don’t. I’m sorry,” said one.
“Filibuster? Wow, that’s a hard one. I know it’s a political term,” added another.
A filibuster is a way for a minority of senators to keep the senate from voting a bill up or down with a simple majority.
In the old days in the Senate, majority ruled — a simple 51 votes out of a 100 was enough to pass legislation.
But in this very partisan era, everything gets filibustered, and a supermajority of 60 votes — even on background checks — is very hard to get.
Today’s filibuster is not like the old ones — portrayed by Jimmy Stewart in the movie classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” who delayed a vote by non-stop talking.
“Wild horses aren’t going to drag me off this floor until they’ve heard everything I’ve got to say… even if it takes all winter,” the fictitious senator tells his colleagues.
Today, no long speeches — a minority just threatens a filibuster — and the 60-vote supermajority kicks in.
That’s what killed the Toomey-Manchin compromise.
So again, under the Senate’s rules, even though a majority — 54 senators — supported background checks, it goes down to defeat.
In a statement minutes later, Toomey seemed to wash his hands of it, saying it was time to move on and focus on the economy, debt ceiling and jobs.
The Senate is continuing to vote on other gun control measures tonight and Thursday.