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By Alexander Bolton 04/17/13 04:27 PM ET

 

The Senate delivered a devastating blow to President Obama’s agenda to regulate guns Wednesday by defeating a bipartisan proposal to expand background checks.

It failed by a vote of 54 to 46, with five Democrats voting against it. Only four Republicans supported it.

Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.), Max Baucus (Mont.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Mark Begich (Alaska) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) voted against it. Reid supported the measure but voted against it to preserve his ability to bring the measure up again.

GOP Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Susan Collins (Maine), Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Mark Kirk (Ill.) voted “yes.”

The amendment sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Toomey appeared to have political momentum last week.

It would have expanded checks to cover all firearms sales at gun shows and over the Internet, but would have exempted sales between friends and acquaintances outside of commercial venues.Democrats felt confident the compromise could pass once Toomey, a Republican with an A rating from the National Rifle Association, signed on. They were caught off guard by the vigorous lobbying campaign waged by the NRA, which warned lawmakers that Manchin-Toomey would be a factor in its congressional scorecard.

What appeared to be a likely victory for the president was resoundingly defeated by the Senate as jittery Democrats facing tough reelections next year joined nearly the entire Republican conference.

The NRA released a statement immediately after the vote that said the measure would have “criminalized certain private transfers of firearms between honest citizens.”

“As we have noted previously, expanding background checks, at gun shows or elsewhere, will not reduce violent crime or keep our kids safe in their schools,” NRA executive director Chris Cox said in a statement.

Now Democratic leaders will have to overhaul the pending gun control bill to give it a chance of passing the Senate in diminished form.

The failure of Manchin-Toomey means the broader bill still includes Democratic language passed by the Judiciary Committee to establish universal background checks. That language failed to attract a single Republican vote during the panel markup, and conservative Democrats such as Manchin and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) have said they cannot support the package without changes to the language on background checks.

The Senate’s failure to expand background checks means the three pillars of Obama’s gun control agenda have stalled. The chamber is expected to also reject proposals to ban military-style semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.

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