Why a 2013 gun bill is key to understanding Joe Manchin III, today’s most powerful senator

Why a 2013 gun bill is key to understanding Joe Manchin III, today’s most powerful senator

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), left, and Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) announce their deal to expand background checks for gun sales in April 2013. The measure received bipartisan support but failed to clear the 60-vote threshold of the filibuster. Nobody was more sensitive to the political peril of gun control than Sen. Joe Manchin III, a Democrat from deep-red West Virginia and a proud gun owner. But standing on the Senate floor five months after 20 children and six adults were gunned down in Newtown, Conn., he told colleagues this was “a defining time in public service” — a moment to ignore those risks. He refuted the gun lobby’s objections point by point. He mourned those lost to firearms. He was at turns folksy and forceful but always pleading. Manchin’s measure to expand background checks for gun sales — the most prominent legislative efforts of his early Senate career — failed, despite months of negotiations. Eight years later, the episode has new relevance in understanding the centrist Democrat, who holds tremendous sway on the fates of infrastructure spending, voting rights and other elements of President Biden’s agenda. As everyone in Washington tries to understand what makes Manchin tick, his work on guns in the aftermath of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School offers a window into his approach to taking on the thorniest issues. Those who worked with him closely said the 2013 proposal shows that Manchin’s desire for consensus has enabled him to build genuine trust […]

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