Pres. Obama On Failed Background Check Expansion: “Shameful”

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WASHINGTON
(AP) — A visibly infuriated President Barack Obama surrounded himself
with tear-stained parents of Connecticut school shooting victims
Wednesday after the Senate voted down a measure designed to keep guns
out of the hands of criminals and declared it a “pretty shameful day for
Washington.”

The Senate, which is controlled
by the president's own party, handed him a stinging first defeat for his
second term by voting down a bipartisan compromise to expand background
checks for gun buyers. The disappointment was all over the faces of
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, their mouths turned into deep frowns
as they appeared in the Rose Garden shortly after the vote.

“The
fact is most of these senators could not of offer any good reason why
we wouldn't want to make it harder for criminals and those with several
mental illness to buy a gun,” Obama said. “There were no coherent
arguments as to why we wouldn't do this.”

Obama
vowed that the vote would not end his fight for stricter gun laws and
was “just round one.” But it's unclear where the White House and its
allies on guns can go from here, after the Senate sunk their best hope.

With
five Democrats voting along with 41 Republicans against the measure,
Obama didn't spare his own party the blame. He said opponents made a
political calculation that the gun lobby and a vocal minority of gun
owners would come after them in the next election.

“Obviously
a lot of Republicans had that fear, but Democrats had that fear, too,”
Obama said. “And so they caved to the pressure and started looking for
an excuse, any excuse, to vote no.”

The
pointed accusations were a marked departure from Obama's “no drama”
style. He's shown a lot of passion on the gun issue, even publicly
shedding tears, but his emotion was previously appeared more rooted in
sadness than anger.

He made persistent calls
over the past few months for senators simply to allow a vote to honor
the 26 victims from Sandy Hook Elementary School and those killed in
other mass shootings. After that vote, he appeared before cameras
flanked relatives of five children killed at Sandy Hook along with
former Rep. Gabby Giffords, shot in the head two years ago while meeting
with her Arizona constituents.

Mark Barden,
whose lost his 7-year-old son, Daniel, introduced the president and said
the families would return home “disappointed but not defeated,” with
determination that change will come.

“Our
hearts are broken. Our spirit is not,” Barden said, as Obama put his
hand on his shoulder. Throughout the appearance, some of the parents
cried and were embraced by Biden, Obama's point man on the issue.

Obama
said of the families: “I still don't know how they have been able to
muster up the strength to do what they've been doing over the last
several weeks, the last several months. And I see this as just round
one.”

A senior Obama adviser, speaking on a
condition of anonymity to discuss strategy for the issue, said the White
House always knew that strengthening gun laws would be difficult and
probably have less than a 50-50 chance of passing. But the president was
deeply moved by the Sandy Hook shooting Dec. 14 and thought it was
worth the effort since it hadn't been tried in over a decade, the
adviser said.

The White House strategy was to
move quickly, with Obama announcing his proposals just a month after
Sandy Hook; have Biden stay on top of the issue with frequent
appearances to key constituencies; and use the president to lift the
debate up nationally at key moments by appearing with a broad range of
groups including law enforcement, western voters and the victims'
families. Obama purposefully stayed out of the bill's drafting in a
recognition that he wasn't going to help by trying to insert himself in
the legislative process.

The adviser said they
never believed that senators would act because Obama asked them to, but
the question was whether public outrage over Sandy Hook would be enough
to move them. So Obama put the families out in front – appearing with
them to give impassioned speeches, calling them out in an emotional
conclusion to his State of the Union address, ferrying them aboard Air
Force One to Washington for a lobbying campaign and turning over his
weekly radio address to a grieving mother.

The frequent appearances led Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to accuse Obama of using them “as props, and politicizing people's tragedy.”

Obama
lambasted the suggestion. “Do we really think thousands of families
whose lives have been shattered by gun violence don't have a right to
weigh in on this issue? Do we think their emotions, their loss is not
relevant to this debate? So all in all this was a pretty shameful day
for Washington.”

Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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