Chuck Schumer celebrates a background check breakthrough, quietly

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After being banned from the press conference this morning, Sen. Chuck Schumer celebrated the news of a break-through deal on expanding background checks for gun purchases in a brief conference call with local reporters.

"This is the biggest advance we've had in gun control in more than a decade," Schumer said, near the end of the 10-minute call.

For the man who invented the Sunday press conference, and who has spent the past few months doggedly pursuing a bipartisan deal, it was a brief and un-Schumerlike victory lap.

According to a report in Roll Call, the Republican who agreed to the deal, Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey, requested he not have to make the announcement alongside Schumer, who has been the public face of the gun control movement since he wrote the Brady Bill two decades ago.

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"Here's what I'd say, Manchin and Toomey did a tremendous job negotiating this and they belonged out front," Schumer said, when I asked him about the report. "My job is to work behind the scenes, help get the best bill possible and then help them round up votes, and that's what I'm doing."

According to a Senate aide, Schumer worked behind the scenes to strip some provisions that might have watered down the deal, including one that would have granted reciprocity for concealed permit holders, something that's long been sought by the National Rifle Association, and one to limit the checks to sellers who only sell more than five guns per year.

Schumer also said he talked to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Vice President Joe Biden this morning, urging them to back the deal, which he said includes "80 percent" of what he and Bloomberg's gun-control group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, have been seeking in the negotiations.

The agreement will close the so-called "gun show loophole," and requires checks on all commercial purchases, excluding sales between family, and the occasional rare spontaneous purchases.

"If you're walking down the street, and you're carrying your gun, and somebody says, 'Hey, that's a nice gun, I'll give you $300 bucks for it,' in those types of instances, you would not have to go through a background check," he said.

Schumer said those instances were so rare, and so seldom found to be connected to crime, that "if you had to pick one place to compromise, this is the one that did the least damage."

According to Schumer, the compromise bill announced today was essentially the same offer he made to Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, who pulled out of the negotiations after a couple of weeks, leaving Schumer and Manchin to seek out another highly-rated N.R.A. senator, in the hopes of providing cover to other Republicans.

I asked Schumer if Toomey could provide the same kind of cover as Coburn might have.

"Senator Toomey is one of the most conservative members of the Senate, he's had top-notch ratings from the NRA, so the fact that Toomey and Manchin, both people who have always been with the NRA before--and the NRA has come out against this, as you may have heard--gives us a good shot," he said. "Now do I think it's a done deal, absolutely not. I think it's going to be a hard hard fight. But I'll be rolling up my sleeves and working hard to do it."

Schumer has been pushing for background checks since long before any of his partners on the bill arrived in the upper chamber, but he was quick to make himself the last among equals in talking about the bill.

"The bill is now a Manchin-Toomey-Kirk-Schumer bill," he said, "and we're all going to work really hard and each of us has reach in different parts of the caucus."