Politics

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

(Continued from page 2)

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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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Moments earlier, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who had been absent in recent months as he battles cancer, was brought to the floor by wheelchair. When a clerk called his name, the 89-year-old senator shouted, "Aye."

Lautenberg's Democratic colleagues applauded, but his vote was not enough.

Inside the White House, officials privately expressed frustration and dismay that Obama and Biden had, polls show, sold the public on their proposals through a series of campaign-style events but that the inside game of lining up Senate votes was not as well organized.

The key senators in play came from Southern and rural states - including Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. And yet New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a political independent, quickly became the public face of gun control at a time when conservatives turned him into their bogeyman for his efforts to limit the size of soft drinks. This week, for instance, the NRA ran banner ads on news websites urging voters to oppose "Bloomberg & Obama."

Bloomberg, who financed television advertisements pressuring senators, said Wednesday's vote was "a damning indictment of the stranglehold that special interests have on Washington."

Within minutes of Wednesday's vote, there were calls to unseat opposing senators when they stand for re-election.

"The U.S. Senate decided to do the unthinkable about gun violence - nothing at all," Giffords wrote in an e-mail to supporters. "It's clear to me that if members of the U.S. Senate refuse to change the laws to reduce gun violence, then we need to change the members of the U.S. Senate."

Some leading gun-control advocates acknowledged that it was too difficult to begin a national debate following the Newtown shootings and expect a successful outcome just four months later.

When Obama traveled to Newtown in December to eulogize the victims, he vowed to use "whatever power this office holds" to enact changes that could prevent future gun violence. And he did. But some allies said he should have begun his effort sooner, such as after Giffords was shot two years ago.

"Post-Newtown, the president's been wonderful, but if more of this had happened after the Giffords shooting maybe we could've laid the groundwork then to get something passed now," said Paul Helmke, a former president of the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence.Inside the White House, officials privately expressed frustration and dismay that Obama and Biden had, polls show, sold the public on their proposals through a series of campaign-style events but that the inside game of lining up Senate votes was not as well organized.

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