President Barack Obama lashed out Wednesday at Republican Senators and the National Rifle Association after the Senate’s jarring defeat of his gun control bill, which aides have recently described as one of the president’s top three priorities in 2013.
“To change Washington, you, the American people will have to sustain some passion about this, and when necessary, you have to send the right people to Washington, and that requires strength and persistence and that’s one thing these families should have inspired in al of us,” he said during an emotional late afternoon speech from a podium in the Rose Garden.
Gun advocates “willfully lied,” Obama complained. “It’s a pretty shameful day for Washington.”
The president was standing alongside some of the parents of the children killed in the December school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, along with former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was severely wounded in a 2011 shooting spree in her home state of Arizona.
One of the parents delivered an emotional message just before Obama spoke.
“We’ll return home now, disappointed but not defeated. .. change will happen, maybe not today, but it will happen,” said Mark Barden, whose seven-year-old son died in the the December 14 rampage at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, as Obama looked over his shoulder.
Obama spoke after the Senate effectively voted down a gun-control bill sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Obama has been pushing gun legislation since the massacre of 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown.
Although the president chastised “90 percent of Republicans in the Senate” for the failure of his gun control vision, his own party showed lukewarm support for the Toomey/Manchin amendment. Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Max Baucus or Montana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Mark Begich of Alaska and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada all voted against the amendment. Reid’s vote was a procedural move that preserves his ability to bring the measure up again, but Pryor, Baucus and Begich are all facing elections in 2014.
Gun-rights advocates opposed the measure, saying it would do nothing to stop Newtown-like killings, but would extend government control over gun rights and create a federal registry of gun owners.
The defeat also curbed Obama’s efforts to use gun control as a wedge issue against House members in swing districts in the 2014 election.
If the Senate had passed the bill, Democrats could have lashed House members for not supporting what the president calls “common-sense gun reforms.”
Obama let his anger and frustrations show during his statement.
“When Newtown happened, I met with the families, and I spoke to the communities and I said … we’re going to have to change,” he declared.
“That’s what the whole country said. Everybody talked about how we’re going to change something to make sure this didn’t happen again. Just like everybody talked about how we needed to do something after [the movie theater shooting in ] Aurora. Everybody talked about how we needed to do something after [the shooting of Giffords in] Tuscon,” he continued.
“And I’m assuming that the emotions that we’ve all felt since Newtown, the emotions that we’ve all felt since Tucson and Aurora and Chicago — the pain we share with these families and families all across the country who’ve lost a loved one to gun violence — I’m assuming that’s not a temporary thing,” he continued. “I’m assuming our expressions of grief and our commitment to do something different to prevent these things from happening are not empty words.”
Obama also took a veiled swipe at Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul’s comment this morning that the White House is using shooting victims as “props” in its campaign for gun control.
And he vowed to keep fighting for gun restrictions. “The memories of these children demand it,” the president concluded.