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Reporters pushed White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre Thursday on why President Biden is not doing more to stem gun violence in the wake of mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York.
“The president cannot solve this problem alone, he needs Congress to act,” Jean-Pierre told reporters multiple times Thursday as reporters pressed the White House on what executive actions Biden could take.
The comments echoed Biden’s speech following the massacre in Uvalde, Texas, Tuesday, when an 18-year-old entered Robb Elementary School and shot dozens of children and teachers, killing 21. In the wake of the shooting, politicians have urged action to stem mass shootings, with Democrats pushing a range of gun control measures.
But reporters at the first White House press briefing following the Uvalde shooting raised many possible actions Biden could take, like creating a gun czar or a firearm task force, canceling vacations or telling Congress not to leave before solving the issue. Some asked why Biden has not done more in his decades as a leader in Washington to address mass shootings.
Gun control advocacy organizations like Brady have called for the president to declare a national emergency on gun violence to free up additional government resources, which Reuters reporter Steve Holland mentioned in the press briefing. Jean-Pierre did list any future actions the administration might take unilaterally, but reiterated previous administration accomplishments.
Jean-Pierre pointed to the administration’s allocation of $10 billion from the American Rescue Plan funding to fight gun crime. The Justice Department has “issued a tough new rule to stem the flow of ghost guns, which are increasingly being found at crime scenes and which hare the weapons of choice for terrorists and criminals,” Jean-Pierre said. The administration has also taken a zero tolerance policy for gun dealers who sell firearms illegally. Biden released a slate of executive orders in April 2021 aimed to stem gun violence.
“This president has done more via executive actions than any other president during the first year of office,” Jean-Pierre said.
Later in the briefing, New York Times’ White House correspondent Michael Shear said pointing to Biden’s long engagement on gun issues isn’t exactly “a plus.”
“Isn’t it more of an indictment than it is a plus to say that the current president has been involved in this… for decades?” Shear asked. “And it’s not being fixed. These things are happening over and over again,” Shear said.
“We are frustrated as well. We are angry as well. I said this earlier and I’ll say it again: This is a president who has done more via executive actions, this is how much of a priority this is for him… than any president in his first year,” Jean-Pierre replied.
Kristen Welker of ABC asked why the administration was fulfilling Biden’s campaign promise to bring Republicans and Democrats together. Jean-Pierre said that was exactly what Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was trying to do in Congress. Welker also asked why gun violence was not the top priority, above the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I would argue that this has been a top priority,” Jean-Pierre said. “I’m not going to list out the one, two and three of priority. What I can tell you is this has been a top priority, literally. He started working on this the first couple of days.”
As for creating a special czar to handle issues surrounding mass shootings, Welker pointed out that former President Barack Obama appointed then-Vice President Biden to lead gun violence task force in 2012. “Is president considering tasking his vice president [Kamala Harris] with trying to get something done on this issue?” Welker asked.
Jean-Pierre said the administration already has a whole-of-government approach, led by Ambassador Susan Rice, Biden’s domestic policy advisor.
In the Senate, several top Democrats announced Thursday that up to a dozen Republican senators expressed interest in helping draft a gun bill.
“There are at least six to 12 [Republicans] who have gone beyond general expressions of interest to looking at drafts and language in statute that could pass,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said. “I’ll let them announce when they’re ready who they are. But this next week will be a testing time because we’ll see who exactly is willing to put signatures on paper.”