President Obama and Democrats are going all in on gun control.
Obama on Tuesday will issue executive actions intended to curb gun violence by expanding background checks on people buying firearms online or at gun shows.
The effort, which comes a week before the president’s final State of the Union address, underlines the Democratic Party’s decision to champion an issue it believes will be a winner in November.
Gun control has divided Democrats in the past, and Obama barely touched the issue in his first term. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gave him an “F” in 2009, calling his record an “abject failure.”
Yet at the beginning of a year that Democrats hope will end with Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMeghan McCain: 'SNL' parodies made me feel like 'laughing stock of the country' Hill: Trump reelection would spur 'one constitutional crisis after another' Trump defends indicted GOP congressman MORE’s election as president and their party winning back control of the Senate, the party believes Obama’s actions will help it send the political message that Republicans are blocking common-sense reforms that would reduce the number of mass killings in the country.
“If you’re a Democratic congressional candidate running in the House or Senate, it makes a great argument about how unresponsive Congress is and how beholden Congress is to special interest groups like the [National Rifle Association],” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon.
Party strategists believe a seemingly ever-escalating spate of mass shootings in recent years has shifted the politics of the issue.
Bannon touted an October CBS News/New York Times poll showing 92 percent of the American public supporting background checks for all gun buyers, including 87 percent of Republicans.
“In years past, Democrats have been a little shy about this issue, but I’ve noticed a fairly significant change in tone and tenor in the last couple of months,” said Jim Manley, a former adviser to Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidHarry Reid calls on Democrats to plow forward on immigration Democrats brace for tough election year in Nevada The Memo: Biden's horizon is clouded by doubt MORE (Nev.). “This kind of action is going to be aggressively supported by most, if not all, Democrats.”
The NRA and Republicans argue Obama is overstepping his authority with the new actions, however.
“This is a dangerous level of executive overreach, and the country will not stand for it,” Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJuan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge MORE (R-Wis.) said in a Monday statement.
GOP candidates for the White House vowed to undo Obama’s actions.
“I will veto that. I will unsign that so fast,” GOP presidential front-runner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpHarris stumps for McAuliffe in Virginia On The Money — Sussing out what Sinema wants Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — The Facebook Oversight Board is not pleased MORE said this weekend at a campaign rally in Mississippi.
Gun control in the past has pitted urban and rural Democrats against one another.
Many Democrats saw the 1994 assault weapon ban as a major reason why they lost control of Congress to Republicans that year.
When Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBill Clinton shares video update after release from hospital Biden, Democrats risk everything unless they follow the Clinton pivot (they won't) Giuliani picks Abe Lincoln filter for attack against McAuliffe MORE’s own vice president, Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreMcAuliffe on 2000 election: 'I wish the United States Supreme Court had let them finish counting the votes' All Democrats must compromise to pass economic plans, just like 1993 Amy Coney Barrett sullies the Supreme Court MORE, lost the White House to Republican George W. Bush in 2000, some saw gun control as playing a role in states such as West Virginia and Gore’s home state of Tennessee.
More than a decade later, the number of House Democrats representing conservative districts has dropped precipitously, and the party appears largely unified about the need to take action on guns.
Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden says expanding Medicare to include hearing, dental and vision a 'reach' Schumer endorses democratic socialist India Walton in Buffalo mayor's race On The Money — Sussing out what Sinema wants MORE (I-Vt.), who represents a rural state and has backed gun rights legislation in the past, found himself playing defense at a Democratic presidential debate in December against Clinton and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Democratic presidential front-runner Clinton voiced support for the new background check rules before Obama, saying she intended to go further than the president on gun control.
“Hillary Clinton has been making a big issue of guns,” said Bannon. “The president jumping on board increases the size of the audience for her message.”
The December 2012 killings of 20 school children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., spurred Congress to take up the issue of gun control, though a bipartisan Senate bill to impose tougher background checks on gun sales failed to move forward in the Senate in part because of objections from Senate Democrats.
After Newtown, Obama issued 23 executive actions designed to curb gun violence, including enhanced information-sharing for background checks and requiring private health insurers to cover mental health services.
The background check action was considered in late 2013 after the effort failed in Congress. But federal lawyers disagreed about whether it would be legally defensible in court, according to The Washington Post.
By offering the change now, Ryan said “the president is at minimum subverting the legislative branch, and potentially overturning its will.”
Obama, after huddling on Monday with Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey, voiced confidence the new action would survive legal challenges.
“I’m ... confident that the recommendations that are being made by my team here are ones that are entirely consistent with the Second Amendment and people’s lawful right to bear arms,” he said.
The actions also reflect Obama’s intention to dictate the political debate as he begins the final year of his presidency.
Ryan and GOP leaders had hoped to dominate the headlines of the first week of 2016 by for the first time sending Obama legislation to repeal much of ObamaCare and defund Planned Parenthood.
Instead, Ryan on Monday was forced to respond to the president on guns.
The core measure would urge more sellers to register as federally licensed gun dealers. The move is intended to close the “gun show loophole” that allows certain unregistered sellers to avoid checking buyers’ backgrounds.
“This is not going to solve every violent crime in this country,” Obama said Monday of the pending actions. “It’s not going to prevent every mass shooting, it’s not going to keep every gun out of the hands of a criminal. It will potentially save lives and spare families the pain of these extraordinary losses.”