Obama Calls for Nation Shocked by Gun Tragedies to ‘Change’

BY Terence Burlij  September 23, 2013 at 9:09 AM EDT

President Obama embraces a family member after delivering remarks on Sept. 22 in remembrance of the victims of the Navy Yard shootings. Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

“If we really want to honor these 12 men and women, if we really want to be a country where we can go to work, and go to school, and walk our streets free from senseless violence, without so many lives being stolen by a bullet from a gun, then we’re going to have to change.”

President Barack Obama on Sunday used a moment of national mourning to argue the case for more gun control, asking the American people to call for action that he said clearly won’t be coming from Washington.

The president paid tribute at the memorial service for the 12 people slain at the Washington Navy Yard last Monday, acknowledging he has grieved with five communities “ripped apart by mass violence.” He named each: “Fort Hood. Tucson. Aurora. Sandy Hook. And now, the Washington Navy Yard,” and then noted there is “a backdrop of daily tragedies” amid an “epidemic of gun violence” in American cities.

“It ought to be a shock to us all as a nation and as a people. It ought to obsess us. It ought to lead to some sort of transformation,” Mr. Obama said. He said in other countries, people mobilized for change to make mass shootings become “a great rarity.”

The scolding was gentle, but broad, as the president complained of “round-of-clock coverage on cable news,” speeches and “punditry” that end in the same result: “nothing happens.” As the families of the victims looked on, Mr. Obama said:

Alongside the anguish of these American families, alongside the accumulated outrage so many of us feel, sometimes I fear there’s a creeping resignation that these tragedies are just somehow the way it is, that this is somehow the new normal.

We can’t accept this.

The president also took a moment to talk about Dr. Janis Orlowski from Medstar Washington Hospital Center, who at a news briefing following the shootings offered what Mr. Obama called “heartbreaking honesty as somebody who sees, daily and nightly, the awful carnage of so much violence.”

“‘We are a great country’, she said, ‘but there’s something wrong. All these shootings, all these victims,’ she said. ‘This is not America. It is a challenge to all of us,’ she said, ‘and we have to work together to get rid of this.’”

Mr. Obama said hers is “the wisdom we should be taking away from this tragedy and so many others — not accepting these shootings as inevitable, but asking what can we do to prevent them from happening again and again and again.”

He addressed the specific circumstances of the Navy Yard shooting, noting that he ordered a review of security procedures at military facilities. (The Washington Post has more on that effort here.)

The president said Americans are not more violent, or more prone to the mental health problems that can lead to such tragedies.

“The main difference that sets our nation apart, what makes us so susceptible to so many mass shootings, is that we don’t do enough — we don’t take the basic, common-sense actions to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and dangerous people,” Mr. Obama said. “What’s different in America is it’s easy to get your hands on gun — and a lot of us know this.”

Then he hit at the politics, saying they are “difficult,” and seem “frozen” in a way that prevents change. Mr. Obama said he “cannot accept” the failure to balance Second Amendment rights and efforts to reduce gun violence, and citizens shouldn’t either.

And it may not happen tomorrow and it may not happen next week, it may not happen next month — but it will happen. Because it’s the change that we need, and it’s a change overwhelmingly supported by the majority of Americans.

By now, though, it should be clear that the change we need will not come from Washington, even when tragedy strikes Washington. Change will come the only way it ever has come, and that’s from the American people. So the question now is not whether, as Americans, we care in moments of tragedy. Clearly, we care. Our hearts are broken — again. And we care so deeply about these families.

Then there was a challenge that might have been to Congress, but it sounded like a call for everyday people to do something: “[T]he question is, do we care enough?”

Mr. Obama said words, prayers and tears aren’t enough. That to really honor those killed at the Navy Yard and elsewhere and to stop “senseless violence,” then “we’re going to have to change.”

He did not offer a prescription for that change, or make more than a subtle reference to the Senate’s failure in April to pass legislation expanding background checks for gun purchases.

The president repeatedly returned to a theme of finding “wisdom” in an answer to the violence, closing with, “And may God grant us the strength and the wisdom to keep safe our United States of America.”

Hours earlier, National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” calling for action of his own.

LaPierre said on the show that “there weren’t enough good guys with guns” at the Navy Yard to confront gunman Aaron Alexis.

LaPierre said military facility personnel should be armed. “We need to look at letting the men and women that know firearms and are trained in them, do what they do best, which is protect and survive,” he said.

He argued against the sort of national background check system that couldn’t pass the Senate this spring, saying that the shooters in each of the big tragedies from the last few years would have been cleared, and said improved mental health checks are more important.

The president and the NRA leader represent the two extremes of an entrenched battle that may not be settled for a long, long time, if ever. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last week said he would consider putting a measure that addresses mental health alone on the Senate floor, with aides suggesting that could be a small step toward a larger gun control compromise. It’s a debate we’ll continue to watch closely.

BUDGET BATTLE

With one week to go until a potential shutdown, the Obama administration and Congressional Republicans remained deadlocked over funding for the federal government and for the president’s health care reform law.

The political stalemate played out yet again on the Sunday talk shows, as one of the leading GOP voices for the defunding effort, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, suggested that Senate Democrats, led by Reid, would likely resort to “brute political power” to restore funding for the health care law.

Cruz said he will push Reid to require a 60-vote threshold on a vote to add the funding back for the health care law. He also warned his fellow Republicans that voting to proceed to the House bill knowing that Reid would implement the funding change by simple majority would essentially be voting in support of the health care law.

“Any vote to allow Harry Reid to add funding for ObamaCare with just a 51-vote threshold, a vote for cloture, is a vote for ObamaCare. And I think Senate Republicans are going to stand side by side with Speaker Boehner and House Republicans listening to the people and stopping this train wreck that is ObamaCare,” Cruz said on “Fox News Sunday.”

But Oklahoma GOP Sen. Tom Coburn insisted Republicans simply do not have the votes to win the current fight.

“I think it’s a great attempt to raise the issue of some of the weaknesses and the problems with ‘Obamacare.’ But it’s not a tactic that we can actually carry out and be successful,” Coburn said during an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“It’d be nice if we did. I’d be in the fight,” Coburn added.

The president’s Democratic allies on Capitol Hill blasted the approach by Cruz and other conservatives.

“It’s not brute political force that is refusing to defund ObamaCare. It’s called the American people and elections,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I don’t think in America, we should throw tantrums when we lose elections and threaten to shut down the government and refuse to pay the bills. The American people had a choice last November. They had a choice between someone who said repeal ObamaCare and President Obama.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, called GOP opponents “legislative arsonists” for their desire to “burn down” government investments in education and research.

The Senate will move forward on the temporary spending bill in the coming days, stripping out the health care language passed by the House and sending the measure back to the lower chamber with the funding restored. That will give House Republicans little time left to act before government funding runs out on Oct. 1.

In the meantime, the House is expected to begin work on a measure to raise the nation’s debt limit, which will also include a provision to delay implementation of the health care law for one year, as well as other GOP priorities.

During a visit to a Ford plant last Friday, the president declared yet again that he would refuse to negotiate over lifting the country’s borrowing limit, saying the country must not risk defaulting on its obligations for the first time in history.

“This is the United States of America. We’re not some banana republic. This is not a deadbeat nation. We don’t run out on our tab,” Mr. Obama said. “We can’t just not pay our bills. And even threatening something like that is the height of irresponsibility.”

The Washington Post’s Paul Kane has a handy shutdown countdown detailing what to expect in the coming days.

And for a recap of Friday’s House vote, which found one Republican, Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia, voting “No,” check out Judy Woodruff’s report here or below:


LINE ITEMS

  • Judy will interview Bill Clinton on Monday in New York as he begins his Clinton Global Initiative. Tune in at 6 p.m. ET. Mr. Clinton will sit down with Mr. Obama for a conversation about health care on Tuesday.

  • Margaret Talev and Lisa Lerer preview for Bloomberg News the foreign and domestic “headaches” Mr. Obama will face in New York this week at the United Nations General Assembly and visiting the Clinton Global Initiative.

  • The United States is closely monitoring the standoff and violence in Nairobi after a weekend of killings and explosions at a major mall.

  • Hillary Clinton is not feeling a lot of pressure to make a hasty decision on whether to mount a second White House bid. In her first extended interview since leaving the State Department, Clinton says it’s something she’s weighing but the choice is “not one that has to be made soon.” You really should read the whole thing, but if you’re just that busy, Chris Cillizza has rounded up the five things he thinks you should take a away from it.

  • And Alec MacGillis has a harsh New Republican piece looking at Doug Band’s role and some of the darker elements of “Clinton, Inc.”

  • It’s worth noting that in his victory speech after the budget vote Friday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called out each of the vulnerable Democratic senators up for re-election in 2014, a rare bit of politicking from across the rotunda.

  • Health and Human Services Secretary told Fusion’s Alicia Menendez about the challenge of getting young people to sign up for the health insurance exchanges that begin Oct. 1.

  • Sheryl Gay Stolberg profiles Samantha Power ahead of the UNGA.

  • The Washington Post’s power duo of Ben Pershing and Mateo Gold examine the influence of outside groups in the Virginia gubernatorial contest.

  • Roll Call’s Alan Ota reports that Reid “will opt for floor action in 2014” on a minimum wage bill.

  • Texas Reps. John Carter and Sam Johnson, both Republicans, left the small House immigration working group, saying they don’t trust the president to enforce any legislation they write. The AP reports that “leaves Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida as the sole Republican with four Democrats in the group.” But the Post’s David Nakamura finds House Republicans saying they still want to see some action on a bill this year.

  • Despite a “Draft Newt” effort afoot, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says he is not interested in running against Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in Virginia.

  • Dairy farmer and Republican Rep. David Valadao of California is more than $4 million in debt, according to Roll Call’s tally of the poorest lawmakers in Congress.

  • Texas GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold and Chris Matthews sparred Friday on “Hardball” over whether Mr. Obama was born in the United States. From the MSNBC writeup: Ultimately, Matthews said, “Can you repeat after me: he was legitimately elected president.” Farenthold repeated, but with a key word left out: “President Obama was elected president” “Legitimately,” said Matthews. “The people elected him,” Farenthold said, refusing to say “legitimately.”

  • The Associated Press reports that the U.S. Marshals service ended its “high-profile auction of clothing and memorabilia belonging to convicted former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. because of questions about the authenticity of some items.” The questions surrounded a guitar “purportedly signed by Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen.”

  • The Hill’s Emily Goodin looks at how political shows fared at the Emmys Sunday.

NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

  • David Brooks and E.J. Dionne, sitting in for Mark Shields, sparred over gun control, the budget and shutdown politics on Friday’s NewsHour. Watch here or below.


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