In it, but not of it. TPM DC

NRA To Grade Lawmakers On Background Checks After All

AP Photo / Manuel Balce Ceneta

That changed later in the night, when the influential group's top lobbyist, Chris Cox, posted a letter to senators online warning that the organization "is unequivocally opposed to" the base gun legislation and the Manchin-Toomey agreement.

"In addition," Cox wrote, "the NRA will oppose any amendments offered to S. 649 that restrict fundamental Second Amendment freedoms; including, but not limited to, proposals that would ban commonly and lawfully owned firearms and magazines or criminalize the private transfer of firearms through an expansion of background checks. This includes the misguided 'compromise' proposal drafted by Senators Joe Manchin, Pat Toomey and Chuck Schumer."

"Given the importance of these issues," Cox continued, "votes on all anti-gun amendments or proposals will be considered in NRA's future candidate evaluations."

Manchin and Toomey both have "A" ratings from the pro-gun lobby. The letter was released the night before the initial Senate vote to begin debate on the legislation.

The NRA's initial reticence on whether it'd score the bill suggested that Democratic leaders might have had an easier time finding the necessary 60 votes to maneuver the bill through the Senate. The latest move makes the path to 60 murkier and sets up a high-profile showdown between the upper echelons of Democratic totem pole and the gun industry. Conservative senators kept their powder dry Wednesday afternoon, opting not to take a stance on the deal yet.

If the legislation is not amended to the group's liking, Cox wrote, "the NRA will make an exception to our standard policy of not 'scoring' procedural votes and strongly oppose a cloture motion to move to final passage of S. 649."