Betting on Schumer (for now), Reid includes background checks in a gun-control package

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Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid signaled he'll include background checks as part of the base package of new gun laws that the Senate is expected to take up next month.

It was an indication, among other things, that Reid still believes it's possible that his New York colleague, Chuck Schumer, will succeed in a thus-far unsuccessful search for a pro-gun rights Republican partner to support the measure.

"I want to be clear: In order to be effective, any bill that passes the Senate must include background checks," Reid told reporters.

Schumer has made background checks his personal cause since the shocking school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, insisting that enhanced checks are the "sweet spot" for meaningful legislation. So far, he's still searching for Republican partners.

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The most promising lead early on—extended talks between Schumer and Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn—fell apart, and sort of backfired. After Coburn objected to a provision for private sellers to keep records of the checks they conduct, oher pro-gun senators have latched on to that objection, and a placeholder bill passed the Judiciary Committee last week on a purely party line vote, with Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley expressing the right's fear that such record-keeping was the first step toward a federal gun registry, and then widespread gun confiscation.

But Reid's move shows that he still hopes Schumer can find a compromise before the Senate reconvenes in April.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a statement supporting Reid's move, and his thinking that background checks are a necessity.

"I applaud Senator Reid for sending a bill to the Senate floor that includes comprehensive, enforceable background checks— and for emphasizing that to be effective, any bill that passes the Senate must include background checks," Bloomberg said in a statement sent out by his Mayors Against Illegal Guns group. "This sensible reform — with overwhelming support from Americans, including gun owners — will save lives and keep our communities safer."

It's a contrast to how advocates are treating other hoped-for components of a gun bill, including the assault weapons ban and a federal limit on extended magazine clips.

Earlier this week, Reid informed Senator Dianne Feinstein that her assault weapons ban would not be part of the base bill, but would instead be offered as an amendment, as would an extended-clip limit.

For his part, Bloomberg seems content with that strategy.

"Senator Reid also ensured that limits on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines will be brought to his chamber – these reasonable ideas deserve votes,” Bloomberg added in his statement today.

While those measures are unlikely to pass, they could offer Bloomberg some clarity about who to target with his free-spending super PAC.