Camp Hill — After weeks of criticism and a failed vote in the U.S. Senate, Pat Toomey told a crowd of conservative activists that he was pulling back from the gun issue and returning to economic issues.
“The last couple weeks I know very well that the efforts Joe Manchin and I engaged in are efforts that many, maybe most of the people in this room disagree with,” Toomey said, as the audience confirmed his belief with loud applause.
“I do appreciate the fact that you’re willing to hear me out, and I just appreciate being able to explain why I did what I did. And my hope is that we can agree to disagree on this and move on to the many many areas on which we agree.”
The Pa. Leadership Conference crowd greeted the Senator with a standing ovation that built slowly and without any audible booing – to the visible relief of the Toomey staffers gathered in the back of the room.
For years, Toomey had been a hero in rooms like this. His primary challenge to Arlen Specter in 2004 earned him strong conservative bona fides from the PLC crowd.
Today was Operation: Reconciliation for Toomey, who became a target for conservative ire in recent weeks over his bill to expand background checks to online sales and those in gun shows. Critics said the legislation could lead to a national gun registry, something second amendment advocates fear and oppose.
The bill failed to reach the necessary 60 vote threshold this week in the Senate.
But it wasn’t a total retreat for Toomey, who defended his proposal even in defeat.
“A lot of folks have said that wouldn’t have prevented the Newtown massacre. And that’s absolutely true. It would not have,” he said. “But it might have made a difference in the Virginia Tech incident because as you may know, the shooter in that case had already been adjudicated by the government of Virginia as dangerously mentally unstable and a threat. But they never provided that information to the background check system.”
And he defended his openness to bipartisanship.
“I totally understand that my Democratic colleagues have a profoundly misguided political philosophy, that’s true. But even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and again.”
The speakers who introduced Toomey, Congressman Keith Rothfus (R-Allegheny) and Pa. Manufacturers Association President and CEO Fred Anton, also defended him.
“Pat Toomey deserves your support. The scurrilous, vitriolic attacks on Pat Toomey because of disagreement on this social issue are totally unwarranted,” Anton said to a mix of cheers, boos and murmuring.
But ultimately, Toomey said he was done working on the gun issue for now.
“In the end… I was not able to persuade enough of my colleagues. We had the vote on Wednesday. I lost. I get that. This issue I think is probably resolved for now,” Toomey said.
“And I want you to know, I intend to turn my attention to my usual wheelhouse. I’m going to resume my focus on pushing back a government that is the main reason we have a miserable economy today.”
And he did, pivoting his speech to an array of issues like the budget, earmarks, federal sugar subsidies and more.