Never before had President Barack Obama put the moral force and political muscle of his presidency behind an issue quite this big — and lost quite this badly.
The president, shaken to the core by the massacre of 26 innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary School, broke his own informal “Obama Rule” — of never leaning into an issue without a clear path to victory — first by pushing for a massive gun control package no one expected to pass, and then sticking through it even as he retrenched to a relatively modest bipartisan bill mandating national background checks on gun purchases.
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It was a bitter defeat for a president accustomed to winning, a second-term downer that may — or may not — foreshadow the slow decline suffered by so many of his predecessors. Obama seems to have the public behind him, but it illustrated his less-than-Johnsonian powers of personal persuasion, the possible shortcomings of his decision to wait a month after the killings to present a plan and above all the limits of his go-to “outside” strategy of taking his case directly to the American people.
(Also on POLITICO: Obama laments "shameful day")
More than anything, it was an emotional blow to Obama, who was as irritated at the four members of his own party as he was at the 90 percent of Republicans who defeated the bill.
One administration official told POLITICO the White House was especially disappointed with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D), the only dissenting Democrat not up for re-election next year, who refused to go along with the bill even after White House chief of staff Denis McDonough visited her office to make Obama’s case on Tuesday.
(Also on POLITICO: Gun bill hits brick wall in Senate)
Still, officials believed Heitkamp would have flipped if they had gotten closer to the 60 votes they needed.
“The president was tremendously committed and emotionally engaged. I watched the president with these families. He was there for them and really felt it,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who worked closely with the White House in the aftermath of the worst school shooting in the history of his state.
(Also on POLITICO: Senate gun control roll call vote: Senators who bucked their party)
“Background checks will happen,” he added, minutes after the vote. “This outcome is a delay, not a defeat.”
Added Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.): “I never saw a president fight so hard, a vice president, never on any issue… It shows us the cowardice of the Senate.”
In the end, however, moderates and conservatives in the upper chamber said they simply couldn’t deal with a flurry of progressive issues at once — from gay marriage to immigration to guns.
The other three Democratic “no” votes — Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska — were never really in play, sources familiar with the situation told POLITICO.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/04/gun-control-vote-obamas-biggest-loss-90244.html#ixzz2QoSQy6UN
on Apr. 18, 2013 at 7:19 AM