Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) doesn't care if he faces backlash for his new stance on gun control.
"The easiest vote to take in Washington is a no vote. Vote for nothing, you don't really have to explain it," he said during an appearance on CNN Tuesday morning. "We had 20 beautiful babies who were slaughtered. That cannot be tolerated in America. So does that not bring us to the table?"
In the wake of the tragic Sandy Hook shooting, Manchin -- who has an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association for his pro-gun positions -- made news when he expressed an openness to banning assault weapons. Other pro-gun Democrats quickly echoed his comments.
On Tuesday, Manchin reaffirmed his support for gun rights, saying he would still defend the Second Amendment "as fervently" as ever. "I'm a proud member [of the NRA] and I will always be, but with that, I'm also a responsible parent and grandparent," he said.
He criticized the "toxic atmosphere" of Washington that he said inhibited constructive conversations on gun control.
"I've been here for two years as a U.S. senator. I've seen almost a guilt by association, people afraid to talk to other people to get a truly constructive dialogue because they were afraid they'd be tainted or targeted," he said. "It's almost at the point where we are afraid to have an adult conversation. ... Has it gotten to that in Washington? I hope not."
UPDATE: President Barack Obama reached out to Manchin on Tuesday. The senator released the following statement after a phone call with Obama, via West Virginia MetroNews:
The President called me this afternoon. We agree that as Americans and parents, all of our children belong to all of us – and we must work together to keep our precious children safe.
I believe that we must have a dialogue and bring parties from all sides to the table. I know my friends at the NRA and those who support our Second Amendment rights will participate because I know that their hearts are aching for the families in Newtown, just like all Americans.
To have a productive dialogue, we also need to address a number of critical issues, including our mental health system, safety in our schools and a media and entertainment culture that glorifies unspeakable violence.
What I have learned since coming to Washington is that there are some who will vilify you for being open to a conversation with anyone you might not agree with. That’s wrong – as Americans, we all need to sit down and have a serious, adult conversation about the best actions to move forward. The deaths of these children demand that each and every one of us in Washington and the United States be willing to talk with each other.