“Our hearts are broken. Our spirit is not,” Barden said, as Obama put his hand on his shoulder. Throughout the appearance, some of the parents cried and were embraced by Biden, Obama’s point man on the issue.
Obama said of the families: “I still don’t know how they have been able to muster up the strength to do what they’ve been doing over the last several weeks, the last several months. And I see this as just round one.”
A senior Obama adviser, speaking on a condition of anonymity to discuss strategy for the issue, said the White House always knew that strengthening gun laws would be difficult and probably have less than a 50-50 chance of passing. But the president was deeply moved by the Sandy Hook shooting Dec. 14 and thought it was worth the effort since it hadn’t been tried in over a decade, the adviser said.
The White House strategy was to move quickly, with Obama announcing his proposals just a month after Sandy Hook; have Biden stay on top of the issue with frequent appearances to key constituencies; and use the president to lift the debate up nationally at key moments by appearing with a broad range of groups including law enforcement, western voters and the victims’ families. Obama purposefully stayed out of the bill’s drafting in a recognition that he wasn’t going to help by trying to insert himself in the legislative process.
The adviser said they never believed that senators would act because Obama asked them to, but the question was whether public outrage over Sandy Hook would be enough to move them. So Obama put the families out in front — appearing with them to give impassioned speeches, calling them out in an emotional conclusion to his State of the Union address, ferrying them aboard Air Force One to Washington for a lobbying campaign and turning over his weekly radio address to a grieving mother.
The frequent appearances led Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to accuse Obama of using them “as props, and politicizing people’s tragedy.”
Obama lambasted the suggestion. “Do we really think thousands of families whose lives have been shattered by gun violence don’t have a right to weigh in on this issue? Do we think their emotions, their loss is not relevant to this debate? So all in all this was a pretty shameful day for Washington.”