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Sources: Senators reach deal on background checks; vote on new gun laws to follow

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By Kasie Hunt, Luke Russert and Kelly O'Donnell, NBC News

WASHINGTON (NBC) -- Senators have reached a deal on background checks for firearms, sources close to the negotiations said Wednesday, setting the stage for a vote on new gun laws later this week.

Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, will announce the agreement at an 11 a.m. ET press conference with West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who holds an A rating from the National Rifle Association, the sources said.

A deal between Toomey and Manchin represents a major breakthrough for a package of new gun laws that President Barack Obama proposed in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

The two have been working on a compromise proposal that could draw Republican support for expanding background checks, and an aide to Toomey said Tuesday night that all but the final details were left to negotiate.

"We're closer than we've ever been," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., after he and Manchin emerged from a meeting Tuesday night with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Schumer has been acting as an intermediary throughout the gun bill negotiations.

Support from the conservative Toomey, who also carries an A rating from the NRA, could give other, more moderate Republicans cover to vote in favor of a bill to expand background checks for gun sales beyond just those conducted through licensed dealers.

In recent days, Obama's gun control agenda has been imperiled on Capitol Hill. While Democratic leaders have promised votes on an assault weapons ban and new limits on high capacity magazines, neither can realistically pass the Senate.

And a deal on background checks has eluded Democrats for months — which could leave the president with only stricter gun trafficking laws to show for a prolonged, emotional national plea for tighter restrictions on firearms after 20 young children and 6 educators were gunned down in Connecticut.

But there was new momentum for gun legislation Tuesday as Republican senator after Republican senator announced they wouldn't support a filibuster that would prevent gun legislation from even coming up for debate.

A trio of conservatives — Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah — are leading the filibuster effort, with support from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

But as Tuesday wore on, as many as 10 Republican senators said they could not support the stalling tactic — or left the door open to allowing Democrats to bring the measure up on the floor.

"The purpose of the United States Senate is to debate and to vote and to let the people know where we stand," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday. "What are we afraid of?"

On Tuesday night, Reid officially filed gun legislation that's been written by Democrats. It sets up a possible Thursday vote to open debate on guns. Senate aides said debate on gun legislation could continue through next week and even into the following week. A Manchin-Toomey compromise would likely be the first amendment offered to the package.

The vote to open debate is tricky for some Democrats who hail from conservative states like Arkansas, where the NRA and other pro-gun groups hold significant sway. But Republican movement in favor of it could help protect them and increases the chances that the vote will succeed.

Now, a key question is how conservatives who've signed on to filibuster the gun bill decide to proceed. They haven't ruled out taking a stand on the Senate floor, similar to Paul's 14-plus-hour talkathon opposing drone strikes on American citizens.

That has some Republicans on edge. One member of Senate leadership, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to violate personal confidences, said there's a sense among the top GOP lawmakers that such a public display could further damage the already-battered Republican brand.

But McConnell, who's up for re-election in 2014, vowed Tuesday to stay the course and filibuster the bill.

"It clearly had no bipartisan support in committee," he said.

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