FAIRBANKS—Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich said Wednesday he may vote to sustain a threatened Republican-led filibuster on gun legislation when the matter comes to a vote Thursday as expected.
The decision would put Begich at odds with President Obama, a fellow Democrat who used his state of the union address in February to urge Congress to allow up-or-down votes on gun legislation in the aftermath of the December shooting massacre of students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“I think people should have the opportunity to vote if they know what they’re voting on,” Begich said in an interview with the News-Miner. “I might be one of those that at the end of the day that doesn’t vote for cloture, because anyone can talk about amendments, but we haven’t seen one of them yet.”
Cloture is the term used for a vote to end debate on a measure and thereby allow a measure to proceed to a vote.
Several Republican senators have threatened to filibuster gun control legislation of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. That could be modified with a bipartisan proposal announced Wednesday by Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia to greatly expanded background checks for gun sales.
Begich appeared skeptical, saying his two Senate colleagues had only held a news conference.
“There’s no bill, no amendment,” he said. “I’ve seen this played before. Until I see it in detail… I’m waiting to see what that looks like.”
Separately, Begich said Obama called him on Tuesday and that the two spoke for about 25 minutes, though not entirely about gun control. Obama has increasingly been pressuring senators to approve strong gun control measures.
“Obviously this was what he was calling about,” Begich said. “We had a robust discussion and I reminded him of the current law and asked why are we not enforcing that.”
Begich, in his interview with the News-Miner, noted that anyone selling a gun at a gun show is required to have a license from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
“Why is that important? Because if you have an ATF license, you must by law have a background check.”
Begich said he explained the ATF license requirement, and its related background check, to Obama. “I said ‘Mr. President, you could go in gun shows … these people who are selling guns without licenses are doing it illegally.’”
Begich said Obama responded by citing difficulty from the National Rifle Association and lack of resources in the ATF agency. “I said if they are under-resourced, then as an appropriator, I can put money on the table.”
Begich is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“I also said that if we are going to put some law forward and five years from now we haven’t resourced it properly, we’re selling a bill of goods to the Sandy Hook family and its unfair to the gun community,” he said.
Begich said existing law causes him to “question even the purpose” of the Manchin-Toomey proposal.
Begich also said he had a second meeting of about 30 minutes with family members of some of the Sandy Hook shooting victims. He said he had a first meeting with family members about a month ago.
“There was a lot of concern about how do we move forward,” he said. “They didn’t come in saying vote for this, vote for that. It was ‘How do we make the system better.’ It was very emotional.”
Contact managing editor Rod Boyce at 459-7585. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMeditor.