Journalists on Thursday pressed new White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on why President Biden hasn’t done more to address mass shootings following the murder of 21 people Tuesday at a Texas elementary school.
Jean-Pierre said Biden would “leave the mechanics” of crafting a bill to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — drawing challenges from reporters on why he’s not taking a more forceful role after emotionally demanding new gun control laws Tuesday night.
“There are people out there, I saw several of them on TV today, who say that this president needs to do more,” New York Times reporter Michael Shear said at the press briefing.
Commentators, he added, want Biden “to declare a national emergency, he needs to create task forces, he needs to create a czar of gun things, he needs to say he’s not leaving this building, cancel his vacations, tell members of Congress to get in a room and not leave until they have a solution.
“I guess the question is, why isn’t he doing any of that?” Shear asked.
“On the public health, on the emergency, he has already done that,” Jean-Pierre replied. “The president has already declared gun violence to be a public health epidemic. He has done that already. And he has mobilized our federal departments and agencies, including the Department of Health [and Human] Services to respond. So that is has been done.”
She also noted that Biden chaired the Obama administration’s gun task force after the 2012 murder of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
“Look, this is a president, as I’ve said already, who has been working on gun violence, gun reform, comprehensive gun reform since he was a senator,” Jean-Pierre said. “And he also was there, as you were talking about, when President Obama had to deal with [it]. He was there, he was his partner in that and took on that portfolio of dealing with gun violence. He was there at the table.”
Shear pressed, “Isn’t that more of an indictment than it is a plus — to say that the current president has been involved in this for more than a decade and it’s not being fixed? These things are happening over and over again.”
Jean-Pierre replied, “We are frustrated as well. We are angry as well. I said this earlier, and I’ll say it again, this is a president who has done more via executive actions… than any president in their first year.”
Shear challenged the reply, saying, “But many of those are not directly related to the issues of mass shootings. They may be directly related to guns, and that’s important. But they are not directly related to [mass shootings].”
“This is why we’re calling on Congress to act,” Jean-Pierre countered. “The president is doing what he can right from here, from the White House. … And he has said he cannot do this alone. He’s been very clear. We he understands we need to do more, but Congress also has to act.”
Last month, Biden said his administration would attempt to ban “ghost gun” kits via regulation to close a loophole that allows businesses to sell most AR-15 semiautomatic rifle parts without a federal background check along with a partially complete “lower receiver” part that buyers then finish off at home.
Ghost guns are increasingly seized from criminals, authorities say, but have not been used in recent massacres.
NBC News reporter Kristen Welker picked up Shear’s line of questioning, saying, “the president campaigned on a promise of being able to bring Democrats and Republicans together to get the hard things done. Why has he not been able to bring them together to make this a legislative priority to even get a small measure done?
“Well, I think that’s what Sen. [Chuck] Schumer is trying to do,” the press secretary replied.
“But why not do that in the early days of his presidency?” Welker pressed.
“Well, we have been talking to Congress before these two shootings that have been clearly very publicly very devastating and horrific in this past two weeks. We’re doing it now. Look, we know that this is not easy. We’re not saying that this is easy. And the president is doing everything that he can to get this done,” Jean-Pierre said.
Legislation in Congress remains a steep climb. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday that Republicans are open only to a narrowly crafted bill that “directly” addresses the Texas attack — potentially indicating a willingness to raise the age to buy a semiautomatic rifle from 18 to 21.
“I am hopeful that we could come up with a bipartisan solution that’s directly related to the facts of this awful massacre,” McConnell said.
Senate Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY) said Thursday he would delay consideration of gun-control bills to June to allow for bipartisan negotiations. He said that if those talks fail, he would call floor votes on a pair of House-passed gun control bills that would expand background checks to private sales and prohibit the sale of guns during a pending check, neither of which would directly address the Texas shooting.
Texas authorities say 18-year-old Salvador Ramos legally bought two AR-15-style semi-automatic weapons before using one to murder 19 students and two adults at Robb Elementary School.
Congress rarely passes major gun legislation, but lawmakers in 2019 did agree to raise the national tobacco age from 18 to 21. Congress voted in 1984 to force states to raise their alcohol ages to 21.
Then-President Donald Trump in 2018 endorsed raising the age limit to 21 to buy a semiautomatic rifle following the murder of 17 people at a Parkland, Fla., high school by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who used a legally purchased AR-15-style rifle.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) mentioned Wednesday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that she sponsors legislation to raise the age limit for AR-15s. She noted that 18- to 21-year-old adults cannot even legally buy a beer.