WASHINGTON -- In the hours leading up to the Senate vote on background checks, the few remaining undecided Democrats and Republicans began announcing that they were going to oppose the bipartisan compromise worked out by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). But with just over an hour before the scheduled vote, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) broke that trend and said he was going to back it.
"I'd like to just take a moment and express my appreciation for the two sponsors of this amendment -- Sen. Manchin and Sen. Toomey," said McCain on the Senate floor. "Both come from states where there are avid and dedicated and legitimate gun rights advocates. It would have been easier for both Sen. Manchin and Sen. Toomey to ignore this situation and not reach across the aisle to each other."
Still, McCain's support is likely not going to be enough to reach the 60 votes needed for passage. Even before McCain gave his speech, 42 senators -- all Republicans except Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) -- had already said they were opposing the amendment, which would expand and strengthen background checks for gun sales.
"You may not win today, I say to my two colleagues," said McCain, acknowledging the bleak prospects for the amendment. "But I will say that you did the right thing. You did the right thing, and it's been my experience as a senator in this body for some years, who has not always done the right thing, [that] doing the right thing is always a reward in itself."
Supporters of the Manchin-Toomey deal were furiously trying to launch a last-minute offensive effort on Wednesday, hitting back against talking points opponents like the National Rifle Association were using to kill a deal. In particular, they rebutted claims that the legislation would lead to the creation of a national database of gun owners.
McCain joined in during his floor speech.
"If this amendment would establish such a registry, I would oppose it -- but it does not," he said. "In fact, the amendment reinforces the existing federal ban of a national firearms registry. ... It would also provide for a harsh penalty of 15 years for any person who attempts to create a registry and re-affirms that any regulations issued by the Department of Justice to ensure criminals and the mentally ill do not obtain firearms cannot create a firearms registry."