Administration

Biden to confront horrors of school shooting in Uvalde

President Biden will head to Uvalde, Texas, on Sunday, where for the second time in less than two weeks he will grieve with a community struck by a mass shooting.

The nation is reeling from the shooting at Robb Elementary School on Tuesday that left 19 children and two adults dead.

The massacre, the third deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, has reignited the debate about gun control, fueled questions about the actions of law enforcement and spurred anger from Americans about how commonplace mass shootings have become.

Biden is expected to meet with community leaders, faith leaders and families of the victims in the shooting.

“The president and first lady believe it is important to show their support for the community during this devastating time and to be there for the families of the victims,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Thursday.

The president said he and the first lady hoped to let the families and community members of Uvalde know they have “a sense of their pain, and hopefully bring some little comfort to the community in shock, in grief, and in trauma.”

“As a nation, I think we all must be there for them.  Everyone,” he said Wednesday. 

The meetings on Sunday may be tragically familiar for Biden, who met repeatedly with families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting while he was vice president and has spent time with communities grieving last year’s Atlanta spa shootings and the Surfside apartment building collapse. Biden also reportedly had an uncomfortable meeting with families of slain U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan last summer. 

Still, the visit to Uvalde may end up being Biden’s most challenging and emotional visit yet, coming less than a week after the shooting and at a time when the law enforcement response is attracting substantial scrutiny and criticism. 

Authorities on the scene initially said officers engaged the gunman outside the school, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) praised the police response in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. 

But in the days since, the timeline of the response has dramatically changed. Videos have emerged of parents outside the school pleading with officers to go in the building to stop the gunman, and police acknowledged the shooter was not confronted before entering the building.

On Friday, officials admitted officers thought the gunman had barricaded himself inside a classroom and no more kids were at risk. They said they should have sought to engage with the shooter earlier.

“It was the wrong decision. Period. There’s no excuse for that,” Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw told reporters on Friday. 

The White House said Thursday, before further details had emerged, that it would not “prejudge” the law enforcement response while an investigation was ongoing. But there will be additional attention on how Biden addresses law enforcement while in Uvalde on Sunday.

Biden has confronted tragedies throughout his presidency and the role of consoler-in-chief is one that comes naturally to him given his own personal experiences with grief. Biden’s first wife and daughter died in a car crash just after he was elected to the Senate in 1972 and lost his son, Beau, to brain cancer in 2015. Monday will mark the seventh anniversary of his death. 

“He has felt tragedy in his life,” said Doug Jones, a former Democratic senator from Alabama who served briefly in the White House.

When Biden travels to Texas, it will only have been 13 days since he and the first lady visited the site of a shooting at a Buffalo supermarket that left 10 dead.

In his remarks in Buffalo, Biden spoke about his personal familiarity with losing a loved one. He named and described each of the victims. And he condemned white supremacy after authorities learned the gunman had written online about a racist conspiracy that minorities were replacing white people.

When the president lands in Uvalde, much of the focus will be on how he balances calls for action on gun laws with comforting a grieving community still searching for answers.

Biden has faced pressure from some corners to put more pressure on Congress to act swiftly on gun control legislation following the shooting. 

“I think they really do have to push the leadership in Congress to schedule a vote on background checks and the Charleston loophole,” said Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign. “We need to see this body actually doing something on this.”

The White House thus far has left the legislative mechanics to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has delayed any votes on House-passed legislation to allow space for bipartisan negotiations. 

Some activists are hopeful that Biden traveling to Texas will help keep it front of mind for the public, even as Congress has left for Memorial Day recess.

“We can’t talk about it for a few days then let it go. We can’t have temporary tears or temporary moral outrage,” said Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. “The bet is it’s going to be temporary outrage.”

Tags Biden Buffalo shootings Gun control Joe Biden Texas school shooting

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