Work on a bipartisan Senate deal on background checks, as well as a second conversation with the president this week on gun control, are further illustrating U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk's key role in the debate that's become make or break for President Obama in his second term.
Kirk, one of the few Republicans to split with his party to bring gun control legislation to the Senate floor, was part of a group of four senators that Wednesday morning announced the bipartisan deal on tightening background checks for gun shows and online sales.
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"I'm optimistic it will pass. I'm one of the Republicans who will be voting to pass it," Kirk said in a video statement Wednesday.
The bipartisan deal is an indication that there is enough support in the upper chamber to head to debate on a larger gun control package. Kirk is a co-sponsor of that legislation, which is aimed at stopping gun trafficking.
Kirk -- a leading voice on gun control during his decade in the U.S. House -- noted he was breaking with his party to support the background check legislation "because I think we will have fewer tragedies like the one we saw with (Chicago teen) Hadiya Pendelton killed in random gang violence."
Kirk, who suffered a serious stroke in 2012 and underwent a lengthy recovery process, last week made his first visit home to Illinois since his return to Congress in January.
That visit included a meeting with Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. Kirk said McCarthy described to him "how drug gangs rearm at gun shows because no federal background check is required for the purchase."
Wednesday's announcement follows a Tuesday call from Obama, the second time in as many months the president has reached out to Kirk over gun control efforts. "Had a good conversation with #Potus about background checks and #NorthKorea," Kirk tweeted late Tuesday.
Gun control legislation, in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shootings in December, has been a major push by the president in his second term. By calling Kirk and others, the president is signaling he is not taking anything for granted.
In his first call to Kirk on the issue, Obama spoke about the senator's involvement in bipartisan gun control efforts, the budget and Iran sanctions.