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Republican Sen. Pat Toomey won praise from Democrats (yes, you read that right) in 2013 when he put his name on a bill that would have expanded background checks after 26 people, including 20 children, were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The bill would have required a background check on all gun sales, including at gun shows and on the Internet with an exemption for sales between family and friends. But despite support from Toomey, the conservative from Pennsylvania, the bill narrowly failed the Senate in April 2013 as families from Newtown, Conn. looked on.
Now, Toomey’s up for re-election and his Democratic opponent is hammering him on gun safety legislation after the weekend massacre in Orlando, the largest mass shooting in American history. Katie McGinty has slammed Toomey on his record and implied over the last two days that his support of expanding background checks in 2013 was hollow.
"He leant his name to a bill, did little or nothing three years ago to try to get it passed, (and) since then has done absolutely nothing other than disavow any attempt to move on the legislation," she told The Inquirer in a story published Monday.
Toomey’s name was on the bill that was pushed three years ago to expand background checks -- it was literally known as the Toomey-Manchin amendment -- yet he hasn’t committed to re-introducing since it failed. But "disavow" is a pretty strong word. And it didn’t appear he had out-right denied support for it. So we decided to check the claim.
Toomey signs on
Following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook, Sen. Joe Manchin, D- W. Va., began drafting legislation that would strengthen background checks and began searching for a Republican to co-sponsor his amendment to the larger Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013. Manchin began working with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Wy., but his involvement fizzled out by March 2013.
Manchin’s next partner for the legislation? Pat Toomey, who was also getting pressure from a political ad circulating in Pennsylvania that was run by Mayors Against Illegal Guns urging him to support gun control legislation. By the end of March, Toomey was on board and an official announcement was made shortly later.
He and Manchin made media appearances and held meetings with senators on both sides of the aisle. A spokeswoman from Everytown, a national gun violence prevention group, said her organization at the time worked directly with Toomey on the legislation. He also appeared with Manchin on the Senate floor to push for its passage and, after his approval, enough Republicans voted to make it essentially filibuster-proof, a move Democrats rallied around.
Other Republicans, not so much.
"While all of us like and respect Sen. Toomey," Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, told The Hill at the time, "there wasn’t an outpouring of support for his amendment."
Toomey’s name was on the bill for about two weeks before it was brought up for a vote, when it was ultimately defeated 54-46. Five Democrats opposed the bill, but the following four Republicans voted in favor: Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, John McCain of Arizona and Toomey.
The three Republicans besides Toomey who voted in favor of the amendment? They all had previously expressed support for expanding background checks on gun sales before Toomey’s involvement.
What did he accomplish?
McGinty’s campaign argues Toomey accomplished little with regard to moving the background checks legislation forward and, since it failed in 2013, hasn’t re-introduced it. After it was struck down in the Senate, he told Politico "it’s time to move on." The amendment was brought up again by Manchin in 2015, and Toomey didn’t speak out in favor of passing it, though he did vote for it. It was again defeated.
"Since the bill expired at the end of 2013, Senator Toomey has had a full year and a half to copy and paste the language from his 2013 bill and simply re-introduce it. He just hasn't done it," McGinty’s spokesman Sean Coit said. "On top of that, he's made it very clear... that he's not interested in the bill anymore and is done working to address gun violence."
So does Toomey still support legislation that would expand background checks though he hasn’t reintroduced his own amendment? Or, as McGinty says, has he "disavow[ed] any attempt to move on the legislation?"
His Senate office wouldn’t commit to re-introducing the bill -- and The (Allentown) Morning Call reported a gun rights group said Toomey’s office told them last year that it wouldn’t be brought up again. His office disputed that account and spokeswoman E.R. Anderson said this week that Toomey "continues to strongly support this measure, as well as others, to make it harder for terrorists, criminals, and mentally ill people to obtain guns."
Toomey’s campaign for re-election says the senator was heavily praised following his support of the amendment, including being formally honored by Sandy Hook families at a ceremony last year.
"There are few senators who have done more than Pat Toomey to reach across the aisle and attempt to forge a real bipartisan consensus on critical gun safety legislation," spokesman Ted Kwong said in a statement.
Democrats take issue with that statement, pointing out that Toomey has rarely brought up the legislation on the Senate floor since it was defeated in 2013 and that he was critical this year of President Obama using executive orders to tighten gun regulations. McGinty again hit Toomey during a press conference Tuesday on gun safety, calling on him to pass legislation that would make it harder for suspected terrorists to buy guns.
Last year, Toomey voted against a measure that would have made it illegal for those on the no-fly list to buy guns and instead favored a GOP bill that would have allowed the attorney general to stop a suspected terrorist from buying a gun, but the attorney general would have to do so within 72 hours unless the courts stepped in.
Toomey’s contended the Republican bill that was voted on and defeated was a viable option; McGinty this week called it "toothless."
This claim was two-fold, with McGinty claiming 1. That Toomey "did little or nothing" to attempt to get the Toomey-Manchin amendment passed and 2. That he has "done absolutely nothing other than disavow any attempt to move on the legislation" after it was shot down by the Senate.
Toomey signed onto the amendment very late in the game and a vote took place just weeks after his name was added to it. It’s also true that no additional Republicans signed on to vote in favor of the legislation after Toomey added in his support. If McGinty would have said Toomey accomplished little, she would have been right. But to say he "did little or nothing" to advance the bill isn’t supported by the facts.
The senator also hasn’t re-introduced the legislation since it was shot down and hasn’t indicated that he plans to. But the definition of "disavow" is to deny complete responsibility for, and Toomey isn’t against the legislation itself, saying he still supports the measure -- and indeed, he voted for it again. For now, he just won’t be the one to re-introduce it.
We rate the claim Mostly False.
Email, E.R. Anderson. Pat Toomey Senate office communications director. June 13, 2016.
Email, Erika Soto Lamb. Everytown for Gun Safety spokeswoman. June 14, 2016.
Email, Sean Coit. Katie McGinty campaign communications director. June 14, 2016.
Email, Ted Kwong. Pat Toomey campaign communications director. June 14, 2016
News article, "After Orlando, Dem Katie McGinty hammers Pat Toomey over anti-terror gun bill." The Philadelphia Inquirer. June 13, 2016.
News article, "Gun bill gets a big boost from Toomey." The Hill. April 2013.
News article, "Gun control bill hits brick wall in Senate." Politico. April 2013.
News article, "Mayors Against Illegal Guns to air ads aimed at Sen. Toomey and other lawmakers." PennLive. March 26, 2013.
News article, "Mixed message from Sen. Pat Toomey on gun control?" The (Allentown) Morning Call. Sept. 15, 2015.
Press release, "Fact sheet: New executive actions to reduce gun violence and make our communities safer." The White House. Jan. 4, 2016.
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