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Senate shelves gun legislation following defeat of background check bill

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will set aside proposed gun legislation following the defeat a day earlier of major provisions sought by President Barack Obama and Democrats in the aftermath of the Newtown school massacre. (Photo: CNN)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will set aside proposed gun legislation following the defeat a day earlier of major provisions sought by President Barack Obama and Democrats in the aftermath of the Newtown school massacre. (Photo: CNN)

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Thursday he was setting aside proposed gun legislation for now following the defeat a day earlier of major provisions sought by President Barack Obama and Democrats in the aftermath of the Newtown school massacre.

Reid said he and Obama agreed it was time for a “pause” to let negotiations continue.

At the same time, Reid criticized Republicans for orchestrating the failure of a proposal to expand background checks on gun buyers, which is a top priority of Obama and Democrats.

“This debate is not over,” the Nevada Democrat said on the Senate floor.

A Senate Democratic leadership aide said Reid can bring up the package of gun proposals again if circumstances change and he believes he has the votes for key provisions to pass.

On Wednesday, a compromise plan to expand background checks to buyers at gun shows and all Internet sales failed to win Senate approval in a major political defeat for Obama and supporters of tougher gun laws.

Obama and other top Democrats promised to continue the fight against the powerful National Rifle Association and its conservative Republican advocates despite the defeat of watered-down measures to expand background checks and ban some semi-automatic firearms.

“I see this as just round one,” an angry Obama told reporters, flanked by relatives of victims of the Newtown, Connecticut, attack in December and other mass shootings in recent years.

However, the politics behind the failed votes appeared unlikely to change any time soon, leaving Reid and Democrats with the decision of continuing to work for a much smaller gun measure than originally proposed.

On Thursday, the Senate passed two amendments to the bill Reid later shelved after the chamber voted down seven proposals on Wednesday.

One receiving approval was a GOP plan to protect the privacy of gun owners while the other was a bipartisan proposal to strengthen mental health programs.

The decision by Reid indicated that he wants to see if calls for increased public pressure can influence more Republicans to defy the NRA, which scores legislators on their voting records and seeks to influence election campaigns involving candidates it supports or opposes.

Wednesday’s votes showed the challenge Democrats face.

The compromise on expanded background checks forged by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, both with A-rated voting records from the NRA, failed on a 54-46 vote.

It needed 60 votes to pass under an agreement reached by Senate leaders that applied to all the amendments.

Four Republicans broke from the NRA’s position to support the background check plan, while four Democrats from pro-gun states offset them by opposing it. Reid also voted “no” in a procedural move giving him the ability to reintroduce his party’s top priority for a gun package at a later date.

In other votes on Wednesday, Republican proposals received stronger support. For example, a proposal by GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas that would have made state permits to carry concealed weapons acceptable throughout the country failed on a 57-43 vote.

On the House side, some Democrats and Republicans are proposing a measure similar to the Manchin-Toomey compromise defeated by the Senate.

While its chances appear remote, based on the chamber’s GOP majority, Obama and Democrats urged people to insist that their elected leaders pass the background check measure supported by roughly 90% of Americans, according to polls.

“You need to let your representatives in Congress know that you are disappointed, and if they don’t act this time, you will remember come election time,” Obama said after Wednesday’s defeat of the Manchin-Toomey compromise.

The most likely outcome will be continued jockeying by the two parties to gain a political advantage on the issue.

“The next stage is blame avoidance,” noted Darrell West, the vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “Each side will seek to blame the other for the failure to address this important problem.”

While Obama and Democrats blame Republicans for yielding to NRA pressure, Cornyn called Thursday for Reid to proceed with gun legislation that both sides can agree on.