Democrats Show No Background Checks Remorse

WASHINGTON -- As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) considers holding another vote on legislation to expand background checks for gun buyers, two Democrats who voted against the Manchin-Toomey amendment last month showed no signs of budging.

Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) told the Huffington Post on Wednesday it's too soon to say whether they would reconsider a background checks measure. The red state Democrats were among just four members of their caucus who voted with the majority of Senate Republicans to defeat the background checks amendment.

Baucus and Begich have since drawn criticism from proponents for stricter gun laws, who argued that the senators were more concerned with reelection in 2014 than with gun violence. Baucus later announced he would not be seeking reelection in Montana, but insisted he had his constituents in mind when he cast his vote. Progressives have nonetheless run ads attacking him in the hope that he might change his vote if given another opportunity. Begich was also targeted in ads and saw a drop in his approval rating, with more than a third of voters saying they were less likely to back the Alaska Democrat.

Reid said earlier this week he believed the outcry from anti-gun violence groups would result in a few more votes to expand background checks now. He hinted that one or two additional Democrats may vote for the measure.

But neither Baucus nor Begich admitted they were fazed by the backlash when approached by HuffPost in the hallways of the Senate Wednesday evening. Asked if they would revisit the issue, if Reid brought a bill to the floor that incorporated some of the concerns of pro-gun lawmakers, both senators declined to take a position.

"It is too hypothetical," Baucus said as he rushed past reporters and into an elevator.

Begich pointed out that he voted in favor of cracking down on gun trafficking and then highlighted a Republican alternative background checks bill he co-sponsored with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that focused on keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill.

"That bill obviously I support," Begich said. "The mental health piece is significant and one that is a pretty important part of fixing the current system, which I think is important."

A mental health provision is reportedly part of talks among the senators in favor of background checks who are trying to gather more support for modified legislation. Other changes under consideration include capping the fees gun buyers would pay at gun shows and altering the language around Internet sales.

"I'd have to see it," Begich said, when asked if those changes would be sufficient. "I don't really want to speculate on hypothetical stuff around this place, because all we do is speculate on speculation."

Begich also said he was not concerned with bucking President Barack Obama on a major piece of his legislative agenda.

"There's more than often that I disagree with the president, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that cause at the end of the day Alaskans view me as someone born and raised in the state -- I'm Alaskan," Begich said. "So the president's issue [is] the president's issue. My issues are a lot broader than this one."

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