If completed, the effort could represent a major breakthrough in the effort by President Barack Obama and his allies to restrict guns following last December's massacre of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn.
Sens. Joe Manchin, ., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., could nail down an accord early this week, said the a
ides, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private talks. With the Senate returning Monday from a two-week recess, the chamber's debate on gun control legislation could begin as soon as Tuesday, though it might be delayed if the lawmakers need more time to complete a deal, the aides said.
Obama bringing gun fight back to Connecticut
Nearly five months after standing before the residents of Newtown, Conn., declaring mass shootings like the one that killed 26 of their children and educators "must end," President Obama for the first time since the tragedy will return Monday to the state that inspired perhaps the most sweeping political battle over gun control in decades.
The president will speak on gun-related legislation being wrought over in Congress at the University of Hartford; just shy of an hour's drive from the Newtown elementary school where a gunman opened fire in December, killing 20 first-graders and six adults. Mr. Obama has invited family members of the victims to join him on stage.
It's the second leg of a national "tour" of sorts, on which the president hopes to keep alive the emotion that flared across the country in the wake of the Newtown massacre. But it won't be the first time his administration has invoked faces of the tragedy to try to keep his gun control agenda afloat: Vice President Joe Biden in February addressed a conference on gun violence at a Connecticut university just 10 miles from the site of the shooting; Mr. Obama has twice hosted the victims' families at the White House.
Last week the president stopped in Colorado, a state scarred by devastating shootings at an Aurora movie theater last year and Columbine High School in 1999. During a speech at the Denver Police Academy, he said there "doesn't have to be a conflict in reconciling" gun control and Second Amendment rights.
"Every day that we wait to do something about it, even more of our fellow citizens are stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun," Mr. Obama told the Denver crowd. Since the Newtown shooting, over 2,000 more Americans have died from gun violence.
As he did in Colorado, the president during his speech is expected to laud the new law Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy recently signed, requiring a universal background check on gun purchasers, expanding the state's assault weapons ban, raising the age requirement to buy a rifle and limiting the size of ammunition magazines that can be bought and sold to 10 bullets. Restrictions on magazine numbers and a universal background check are among the tenets of the reform proposal Mr. Obama laid out in January.
Speaking to about 30 donors at a fundraiser in Atherton, Calif., on Thursday, the president qualified that while he's "optimistic" about Congress's ability to usher through immigration reform, "it's going to be tougher to get better gun legislation to reduce gun violence through the Senate and the House that so many of us, I think, want to see - particularly after the tragedy in Newtown." Still, he added, "it can get done if people are activated and involved."
Pillars of the White House's gun control plans have dwindled in the Senate. After removing a new assault weapons ban from the package of gun laws to be debated in the Senate, it now seems that debate on that gun bill won't begin until the week of April 15,
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had planned to introduce the package this week; CBS News has learned that the likely delay is due to a number of parliamentary issues, as well as the need for more time to work out a compromise amendment dealing with background checks. Despite support from nine in 10 Americans according to recent polls, the background check item has become an unexpectedly gummy sticking point among Republicans, who have raised concerns that background check records could lead to a federal gun registry.
Manchin is a moderate who touts an A rating from the National Rifle Association, which has opposed Obama's gun control drive. Toomey has solid conservative credentials and was elected to the Senate two years ago with tea party support from his Democratic-leaning state.
A united front by the two lawmakers would make it easier for gun control advocates to attract support from moderate Democrats who have been wary of supporting the effort and from Republicans who have largely opposed it so far.
Wiith conservative Republicans threatening a filibuster, Democrats will need 60 of the chamber's 100 votes to prevail. There are 53 Democrats and two Democratic-leaning independents in the Senate.
Federal background checks are currently required only for transactions handled by the roughly 55,000 federally licensed firearms dealers; private sales such as gun-show or online purchases are exempt. The system is designed to keep guns from criminals, people with serious mental problems, and some others.
After 20 first-graders and six elementary school staffers were killed at Newtown, Obama proposed applying the requirement to virtually all firearms sales. Gun control advocates consider expanded background checks to be the most effective step lawmakers could take to curb gun violence.
Also high on Congress' agenda is immigration, where a decisive moment is approaching.
Bipartisan groups in the House and Senate are expected to present legislation as early as this week aimed at securing the U.S. border, fixing legal immigration and granting legal status to millions who are in the United States without authorization. That will open months of debate on the politically combustible issue, with votes by the Senate Judiciary Committee expected later this month.
The House returns Tuesday and initially plans to consider a bill preventing the National Labor Relations Board from issuing rules until a dispute over administration appointees is resolved.
Lawmakers will also devote time to the 2014 budget that Obama plans to release Wednesday. It calls for new tax increases, which Republicans oppose, and smaller annual increases in Social Security and other government benefit programs, over the objections of many of the president's fellow Democrats.
On Monday, Obama travels to Connecticut to again make the case for gun legislation, with a speech at the University of Hartford.
"He's been working with both sides to try to get the strongest bill we can that has enforceable background checks," White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."
Other Obama gun control priorities include banning assault weapons and ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds. Both bans are expected to be offered as amendments when Senate debate begins, but the assault weapons ban seems sure to be defeated and the high-capacity magazine prohibition also faces difficult odds.
For weeks, Manchin has been part of an effort to craft a background check compromise, along with Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill. Schumer focused his efforts on conservative Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., but those talks sputtered over Schumer's insistence on - and Coburn's opposition to - requiring that records be kept of private gun sales.
"I'm still hopeful that what I call the sweet spot - background checks - can succeed," Schumer said Sunday. "We're working hard there."
Proponents say background checks and records - which are currently retained by gun dealers, not the government - are the best way to ensure that would-be gun-buyers' histories are researched. Opponents say the system is a step toward government files on gun owners and say criminals routinely skirt the checks anyway.
Asked about the potential compromise, Manchin spokesman Jonathan Kott said, "My boss continues to talk to all of his colleagues."
Toomey spokeswoman E.R. Anderson said she could provide no information.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., urged fellow Republicans to allow debate to go forward without a filibuster, even as he declined to express support for a background check bill.
"The purpose of the United States Senate is to debate and to vote and to let the people know where we stand," McCain said, appearing alongside Schumer on CBS' "Face the Nation."
60 Minutes Video: Newtown Families
In addition, the gun bill contains language by Schumer expand background checks to cover nearly all gun transactions, with narrow exceptions that include sales involving immediate relatives. Even without a bipartisan deal, Schumer is expected to expand the exemptions to more relatives, people with permits to carry concealed weapons and others.