April 17, 2013

Obama blasts senators: 'Shameful day'

Visibly angry, he tells the nation, 'all in all this was a pretty shameful day for Washington.'

By ED O'KEEFE and PHILIP RUCKER The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's ambitious effort to overhaul the nation's gun laws in response to December's school massacre in Connecticut suffered a resounding defeat Wednesday, when every major proposal he championed fell apart on the Senate floor.

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President Barack Obama hugs Nicole Hockley, mother of Dylan who was killed in the Newtown School shootings, during conference in the Rose Garden of the White House, Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in Washington, about measures to reduce gun violence, as he is joined by former Rep. Gabby Giffords, second from left, Vice President Joe Biden, and other Newtown family members from left, Neil Heslin, father of Jesse Lewis; Jimmy Greene, father of Ana; Mark and Jackie Barden, with their children Natalie and James, who lost Daniel; and Jeremy Richman, father of Avielle, behind the Barden's.(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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It was a stunning collapse for gun-control advocates just four months after the deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. led the president and many others to believe that the political climate on guns had been altered in their favor.

The national drive for laws that might prevent another mass shooting unraveled under intense pressure from the gun rights lobby, which used regional and cultural differences among senators to prevent new firearms restrictions.

One by one, the Senate blocked or defeated proposals that would ban certain military-style assault rifles and limit the size of ammunition magazines.

But the biggest setback for the White House was the defeat of a measure to expand background checks to most gun sales. The Senate defied polls showing that nine in 10 Americans support the idea, which was designed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

"All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington," a visibly angry Obama said as he delivered his response to the nation.

The president was flanked by Newtown families, a scowling Vice President Joe Biden and former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was shot in 2011 in Tucson, Ariz. and limped from the Oval Office to join Obama in the Rose Garden.

The fierce confrontation on Capitol Hill over an issue that has divided Americans for decades is likely to continue, but any legislation that may ultimately pass probably would be far more modest than the measures Obama had championed.

Newtown thrust gun control to the top of the president's second-term agenda, and he spent considerable political capital campaigning for his proposals. But he was unable to translate overwhelming popular support into legislative action.

Background checks for all gun buyers, long considered the most politically palatable of Obama's proposals, was the linchpin and last week had seemed poised for passage after a pair of pro-gun senators, Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., announced a compromise deal.

Yet even a late flurry of meetings between senators and Sandy Hook parents was not enough to bend the will of Democratic centrists and more moderate Republicans. Although they had been open to background checks, many of them voted no.

Obama sounded exasperated that senators were not more responsive to public opinion and did not offer what he considered worthy explanations for why they voted down the measures.

The president lashed out at the National Rifle Association for having "willfully lied" about the background-check proposal to stoke fear among gun rights supporters that Congress would violate their Second Amendment rights or create a federal gun registry.

And he laid the blame squarely on Republicans, although four Democrats also opposed the bill.

"Ninety percent of Democrats in the Senate voted for that idea, but it's not going to happen because 90 percent of Republicans just voted against it," Obama said, adding that they had "caved to the pressure."

The 90 percent figure comes from numerous polls, including ones conducted by The Washington Post-ABC News, Pew Research Center and Quinnipiac, which show between 86 and 91 percent of Americans support background checks for online sales and sales at gun shows.

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