President Barack Obama said Monday that he would detail his administration’s proposals to prevent gun violence later this week, even as his former chief of staff provided him with some unsolicited advice about how to push gun control legislation through a bitterly divided Congress.
Obama told reporters at a news conference that he would announce his proposals by the end of the week after reviewing a set of policy recommendations issued by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s task force on gun violence.
“I expect to have a fuller presentation later in the week to give people some specifics about what I think we need to do,” Obama said one month to the day after a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 first-graders, at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. “My starting point is not to worry about the politics. My starting point is to focus on what makes sense, what works, what should we be doing to make sure that our children are safe and that we’re reducing the incidents of gun violence.”
While emphasizing that he would review Biden’s recommendations before announcing his legislative plans, Obama reiterated his support for at least three ideas he has backed previously: stronger background checks on those who purchase firearms; a prohibition on high-capacity ammunition magazines; and a reinstatement of the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. He suggested that those three components will be part of his proposal.
“Those are things I continue to believe make sense,” Obama said. “Will all of them get through this Congress? I don’t know. But what’s uppermost in my mind is making sure that I’m honest with the American people and with members of Congress about what I think will work.”
Separately Monday, a key Senate Democrat said lawmakers and the White House are evaluating how broad any legislative gun control package should be.
“I think that Vice President Biden, as well as those of us in the Senate who have been involved in the pro-gun-safety movement, and those in the House, are trying to figure out the maximum package that we think is passable,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters.
Although Obama and Schumer provided few new details about the scope of the proposals, the president’s former chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said there are ways the administration can improve its chances of passing legislation this year.
Emanuel — who served in Congress from 2003 to 2009, including a stint as House Democratic Caucus chairman — helped secure passage of major gun control legislation as a senior adviser to President Bill Clinton in 1994. He said the White House should fine-tune its political message to frame the policy debate on its terms; kick off its legislative push in the Senate rather than the House; and use executive powers to make some changes administratively while prodding lawmakers into broader action.
“Focus the argument on the criminals’ access [to guns] and you’re going to get a bipartisan majority,” Emanuel said during a panel discussion at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank with ties to the administration. “It’s not about ‘gun control.’ It’s about ‘criminal access to guns.’ That changes the debate.”
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.