5 House Republicans to Watch in the Gun-Control Debate

Michael Catalini
National Journal

It's tenuous, but there's movement among lawmakers on gun control. 

Brokered by moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and conservative GOP Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, a compromise deal on background checks has a chance to clear formidable opposition from the gun-rights advocates for the first time since the Newtown, Conn., shooting four months ago.

Even as the Senate is set to debate the measure crafted by Toomey and Manchin after it cleared a procedural hurdle on Thursday, the future of the legislation is far from certain. It's an open question if the measure will survive the amendment process in the Senate; and, evenif it does, House Speaker John Boehner's plans for the bill remain murky. Still, the prospects that legislation will reach President Obama's desk brightened with the announcement of the bipartisan deal. 

The bill, which calls for broadening background checks, has already drawn opposition from the National Rifle Association. In a strongly worded statement critical of Obama, the NRA suggested that a solution should address crime in cities such as Chicago.

"The sad truth is that no background check would have prevented the tragedies in Newtown, Aurora, or Tucson," the NRA said in a statement.

The NRA's opposition makes the legislation tricky for conservatives who could be worried about a possible primary threat, but the deal would need support from the GOP to clear the House. Already, some swing-state Republicans have shown signs of support for the Toomey-Manchin bill. Rep. Pat Meehan of Pennsylvania, for instance, told the Philadelphia Inquirer he endorsed Toomey's plan and said that "it takes effective steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them." Toomey's successor in the House, Rep. Charlie Dent, also expressed support for the compromise. But both Pennsylvania Republicans hail from competitive suburban districts—and their views aren't representative of the overall GOP caucus.

Here's a look at five Republican House members whose positioning on background check legislation will be more closely watched. Their support would signal that the legislation could get through the House. Most are reliable conservatives representing competitive districts. Four of these five members are election targets for Democrats in 2014.  

(AP Photo/Bryan Oller)

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. As House Budget Committee chairman, the face of the GOP's fiscal message, and a de facto member of the House leadership, Ryan is a key indicator of the legislation's chances. He staunchly supports gun rights, hunts regularly, and cochaired the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, even taking his 10-year-old daughter hunting over Thanksgiving. She bagged a buck. He also suggested this week that Toomey's involvement might have given the measure a conservative imprimatur. "Pat Toomey is one of the best legislators in this place, in my book. So when Pat Toomey puts something out I pay attention to it. I look at it," Ryan said this week onMorning Joe.

(AP Photo/Dennis Cook)

Rep. Gary Miller, R-Calif. Miller is one of only 17 House Republicans representing a district Obama carried. His Inland Empire district is majority Latino and voted for Obama by double digits in 2008 and 2012. It’s a solidly Democratic district, but Miller’s voting record is as conservative as they come. His 2012 National Journal vote rating is more conservative than Majority Leader Eric Cantor's, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy's and that of conservative stalwart Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. His support of the Senate deal would make sense, given his district, but it would be out of step with his conservative record. Miller is worth watching.  

(Liz Lynch)

Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa. Fitzpatrick represents a swing suburban Philadelphia district, which he won with 57 percent of the vote in 2012, but the district is highly competitive. In 2008, Obama carried the district with 53 percent of the vote but narrowly lost it to Mitt Romney in 2012. Democrats view the seat as a top target, recruiting Iraq war veteran Kevin Strouse to run against Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick has signaled he would budge on gun issues: In January he announced his support for background checks for gun buyers. A no vote on expanded background checks would almost certainly embolden Democrats.

(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va. Rigell has already been attacked by deeply conservative gun-rights groups. The National Association for Gun Rights targeted him with negative ads in his district after he cosponsored legislation that aimed to outlaw gun trafficking. The ads came at a time when Rigell made headlines and drew cirticism for traveling aboard Air Force One with Obama. Ant-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist called Rigell a "prop" for the White House. Rigell has a history of defying his party in his brief stint in Congress, however. Elected in 2010, he voted to raise the debt ceiling and defied Norquist in 2012 when he urged his colleagues to support the idea of raising revenues. Rigell's Hampton Roads-area district voted for Obama in 2012 and 2008—but barely, with just 50 percent of the vote.

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo. Coffman will likely face a competitive race in 2014 against Democratic former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who so far has nearly matched Coffman in fundraising. Both raised nearly half a million dollars in the first quarter of 2013. The race is rated "Lean Republican" by The Cook Political Report, but the district voted for Obama 52 percent to 47 percent in 2012 and 54 percent to 45percent  in 2008. As they've done with Fitzpatrick, Democrats have drawn a target on Coffman's back, criticizing him for backing Ryan's budget and linking him to a "Robin Hood in reverse."