Carney: White House to pursue separate gun control bills in Congress

White House press secretary Jay Carney confirmed Thursday that the administration would encourage Congress to consider the various aspects of the president's gun violence proposals as separate pieces of legislation.

The move could signal White House concern over the possibility that a comprehensive "Cadillac" bill could stumble in Congress.

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On Wednesday, Obama urged lawmakers to pass bans on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips and agree to universal background checks intended to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

He also called for lawmakers to take up new federal laws toughening penalties for gun trafficking and to provide additional funding for safety and research programs.

But the president will pursue those goals as a series of bills, rather than an overarching package.

Carney said Thursday that strategy was a result of the work California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) has already done on reintroducing an updated assault weapons ban and high-capacity magazine ban in the Senate. He added that the decision was made after consultation with leaders on Capitol Hill.

"We obviously depend in part for our decisions on strategy on our allies in Congress and what they see," Carney said.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have made clear the assault weapons ban, even with Obama's backing, faces a tough road.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said over the weekend he doubted such a plan could pass the House, and even liberal allies like Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) have been reluctant to voice support for the bill. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) predicted Wednesday "there will be bipartisan opposition to his proposal."

By separating the more ambitious gun regulations from a bill that would impose universal background checks on gun purchases or provide additional funding for research, mental health professionals and police, the White House could be acknowledging the tough political opposition towards a weapons ban.

Carney denied that charge Thursday, however, saying that for the White House, "our interest is in moving this entire package in the way that is most successful."

But he also conceded that "how this plays out legislatively is obviously hard to know."

"The reality is, as we've talked about, that none of this is going to be easy, but the fact that it's not easy doesn't mean were not going to try," Carney said.

The White House is already seeking to mobilize public support for its gun violence reduction proposals.

On Thursday, Obama penned an op-ed in a Connecticut newspaper urging lawmakers to "act soon" against gun violence. Vice President Biden sent an email to the president's reelection e-mail list calling on Obama supporters to back the plan, and the White House touted a new website outlining the president's effort.

"We are continuing to press here the entire agenda the president put forward," Carney said.

Obama also signed 23 executive actions on Wednesday that touch on a broad range of gun issues, including efforts to improve existing background checks, improve gun safety and even coax doctors to ask their patients about guns in their homes.

"If there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if even one life can be saved, we have an obligation to try," Obama said.

The plan drew immediate criticism from Capitol Hill, where Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) warned that he'll "oppose the president’s attempts to undermine Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms."

But Obama and White House aides stressed they were ready for a political fight.

"The only way we will be able to change is if their audience, their constituents, their membership says this time must be different — that this time, we must do something to protect our communities and our kids," Obama said. "I will put everything I've got into this, and so will Joe. But I tell you, the only way we can change is if the American people demand it."

In their remarks, both Obama and Biden said they believed the country had been moved by the mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that left 20 schoolchildren and six employees dead.

"I also have never seen the nation’s conscience so shaken by what happened at Sandy Hook," Biden said. "The world has changed, and it’s demanding action."