The planned GOP filibuster of gun-control legislation was losing steam on Tuesday, as more than half a dozen GOP lawmakers abandoned their conservative colleagues’ effort to block consideration of the bill.
“It’s incomprehensible to me that we would not move forward with debate and amendments on an issue this important to the American people,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Democrats and independent lawmakers who caucus with them control 55 seats in the Senate, though Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., has been ill and absent of late. If all of Democrats and allied independents toe the party line, then the newly announced GOP defections would likely be enough to overcome the threatened filibuster.
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"I want to proceed to this bill. I want to debate it. I am not afraid of this bill," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. told reporters.
Some Republicans suggested their willingness to vote down the filibuster was tied to the right to attempt to amend the gun control legislation on the floor.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he would file cloture Tuesday to force a vote later this week to proceed to the bill over the objections of a dozen GOP senators.
Actual passage of sweeping gun-control legislation in the Senate remains far from certain. Republicans could still later filibuster the bill itself.
Negotiations, meanwhile, continue between Democrats and Republicans in hopes of striking a bipartisan accord to strengthen up background check requirements for gun buyers.
The effort to filibuster consideration of the legislation has been led by the conservative flank of the Senate Republican conference, spearheaded by Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas.
The group appeared to be recalibrating its message on Tuesday. Lee said the effort wasn't about blocking the bill, but simply slowing down the process.
"By objecting to the motion to proceed, we guarantee that the Senate and the American people have at least three additional days to assess and evaluate exactly how this particular bill will affect the rights of law-abiding citizens and whether it will have any significant impact on crime,” Lee said in a statement. “The president again is trying to rush legislation through Congress because he knows that as Americans begin to find out what is in the bill, they will oppose it.”
Fawn Johnson and Beth Reinhard contributed to this report.