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Republican Pat Toomey: Obama's best hope for gun control?
The NRA-approved senator might be the only one who can make an extended background check bill a reality
 
The fourth most conservative member of the Senate may cross the aisle on gun control.
The fourth most conservative member of the Senate may cross the aisle on gun control. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

After weeks of stalled negotiations and setbacks, it looks like President Obama could finally score a victory in his push for increased gun control. His hopes now center on a Republican with an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association: Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania.

Toomey is in talks with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) over a deal that would expand background checks for "all gun purchases except sales between close family members and some hunters," according to The Washington Post. Democratic critics say this plan has too many loopholes for private sales, but, after watching other gun control measures like Sen. Dianne Feinstein's assault weapons ban get nixed, they might be tempted to take what they can get.

Why is Toomey, a man the National Journal ranked as the fourth most conservative member of the Senate, willing to play ball? Because, says Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan of The Washington Post, he wants to stay in office:

Toomey understands then that to win in 2016 — a presidential year in a state where a Republican nominee has not won since 1988 — he has to demonstrate some cross-aisle cooperation. And, while much of the middle section of Pennsylvania is filled with hunters who prize their gun rights, the votes Toomey needs are in the Philadelphia suburbs where voters are much more likely to support gun restrictions. Being involved in what will almost certainly be cast as a "common sense" deal — if a deal is struck — is great politics for Toomey. [Washington Post]

But why is Toomey so important? Because he is "thought by advocates to bring with him the votes of several of Pennsylvania’s 13 House Republicans," according to Politico. That could be enough to help get the bill passed in the GOP-controlled House.

And more broadly, "an endorsement from a gun-rights Republican could add critical momentum for President Obama's last, best hope for significant gun legislation," writes Jonathan Tamari of the Philadelphia Inquirer. This speculation comes as Obama travels to Hartford, Connecticut, north of Newtown, to give a speech backing his positions on gun control. As Politco notes, "prospects still look bleak for those hoping for sweeping reform." Toomey could, at least, make sure Obama doesn't end up completely empty-handed. 

Of course, nothing is set in stone. Things look good, a Senate Democratic aide told CNN, but "it's not done and could still fall apart."

 
Keith Wagstaff is a staff writer at TheWeek.com covering politics and current events. He has previously written for such publications as TIME, Details, VICE, and the Village Voice.

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