The president gave an impassioned speech in the Rose Garden shortly after the background check provision failed. Saying gun rights groups like the NRA “willfully lied” about the Manchin-Toomey agreement, Obama suggested that some senators caved to the pressure and looked for any excuse to vote against it. But even as he pronounced the Senate vote “a pretty shameful day for Washington,” he also said it was “just round one.”
He called on Americans to build sustained pressure for enhanced background check legislation, among other gun control provisions. “Sooner or later, we are going to get this right,” Obama said.
With the odds stacked against them, however, it’s unclear whether public pressure and hope will be enough to propel the White House to a legislative win on guns, especially given that an issue more politically appealing to both sides — immigration — is waiting in the wings.
So is there anything the president can now do to keep the promises he made to aggrieved people in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., and Chicago?
“I’m not sure what more the president can do, having persuaded 90 percent of the American public to support the heart of this bill, which is background checks,” said Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., who has become a leading voice on the issue since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in his state. “The fact is, senators are simply not listening to their constituents. And I’m not sure what more the president can do.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was cagey with reporters before the vote Wednesday, saying he would not detail what would come next. He would not acknowledge that the Democrats’ argument for new gun laws, which has been pegged mostly to emotional reaction, seems to weaken with the passage of time.
“We believe ... that there is a path, a very difficult path, but a path to get to 60,” Carney said. “What’s complicated about the fact that 90 percent of the American people want this done and yet a substantial percentage of the Senate at least seems to disagree with the vast majority of the American people, to disagree with the vast majority of the people of their states?”
Emotional pleas were not enough of a legislative strategy, though. Not only did the president’s speeches on the road ring hollow to senators in the Capitol, but members were not even receptive to pleas from their own.
For example, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., attended a ceremony Tuesday to dedicate a Capitol Visitor Center room to her slain staffer. She was joined not only by gun control supporters such as Biden and her husband, Mark Kelly, but also by Arizona Republican Rep. Jeff Flake.
Flake, a friend of Giffords’ who drove to Tucson from his Mesa home when she was shot in 2011, had just announced he wouldn’t support the Manchin-Toomey bill. Giffords and Kelly, even with their personal connection and new money-based influence, couldn’t change his mind.
Though many Republicans balked at the background check deal, saying it would create a federal gun registry that the legislation explicitly prohibited, not every GOP senator was buying their colleagues’ talking points.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.