WASHINGTON (AP) — A visibly infuriated President Barack Obama surrounded himself with tear-stained parents of Connecticut school shooting victims Wednesday and declared it a “pretty shameful day for Washington” after the Senate rejected a measure designed to make it tougher for criminals to get their hands on guns.
The Senate, which is controlled by the president’s own party, handed him a stinging first defeat for his second term by voting down a bipartisan compromise to expand background checks for gun buyers. The disappointment was all over the faces of Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, their mouths turned into deep frowns as they appeared in the Rose Garden shortly after the vote.
“The fact is most of these senators could not offer any good reason why we wouldn’t want to make it harder for criminals and those with severe mental illness to buy a gun,” Obama said. “There were no coherent arguments as to why we wouldn’t do this.”
Obama vowed that the vote would not end his fight for stricter gun laws and was “just round one.” But it’s unclear where the White House and its allies on guns can go from here, after the Senate sunk their best hope.
With five Democrats voting along with 41 Republicans against the measure, Obama didn’t spare his own party the blame. He said opponents made a political calculation that the gun lobby and a vocal minority of gun owners would come after them in the next election.
“Obviously a lot of Republicans had that fear, but Democrats had that fear, too,” Obama said. “And so they caved to the pressure and started looking for an excuse, any excuse, to vote no.”
The pointed accusations were a marked departure from Obama’s “no drama” style. He’s shown a lot of passion on the gun issue, even publicly shedding tears, but his emotion was previously appeared more rooted in sadness than anger.
He made persistent calls over the past few months for senators simply to allow a vote to honor the 26 victims from Sandy Hook Elementary School and those killed in other mass shootings. After that vote, he appeared before cameras flanked relatives of five children killed at Sandy Hook along with former Rep. Gabby Giffords, shot in the head two years ago while meeting with her Arizona constituents.
Mark Barden, whose lost his 7-year-old son, Daniel, introduced the president and said the families would return home “disappointed but not defeated,” with determination that change will come.