Obama Keeps Up Pressure for Gun Laws, Immigration Reform

BY Christina Bellantoni and Katelyn Polantz  January 31, 2013 at 9:00 AM EDT

President Obama; photo by John Gurzinski/Getty Images

President Obama speaks about immigration reform Tuesday in Las Vegas. Photo by John Gurzinski/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

President Obama wants Congress to have a busy spring.

As the push for expanded gun control moves forward on Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama is urging speedy deliberations on immigration reform legislation and warning he’ll get more involved if there is a lag. These hot-button issues are set against a backdrop of sure-to-be heated fiscal debate before sequestration kicks in and as the divided chambers draft government spending blueprints.

Gun violence took the spotlight early Wednesday, as Gabrielle Giffords made an emotional plea before her former congressional colleagues. Her statement was brief and showed the difficulty she’s had recovering from the January 2011 shooting that killed six people and changed her life forever.

Speaking is difficult but I need to say something important.

Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying – too many children. We must do something.

It will be hard. But the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be Courageous. Americans are counting on you. Thank you.

The former Arizona congresswoman and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, visited the White House shortly after their testimony. The hearing continued with a focus on the fight to ban assault weapons, foreshadowing a tough fight.

Witnesses against the ban included the NRA Executive Vice President Wayne La Pierre and Gayle Trotter, an attorney representing the Independent Women’s Forum. They argued the ban passed in 1994 did nothing to reduce gun violence. Calls for banning military-style weapons had one advocate, Jim Johnson, chair of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is calling for the reinstatement of a ban on assault weapons, which ended in 2004, as well as ammunition devices that can fire more than 10 rounds without reloading. Last week she introduced a bill that would ban the sale and manufacture of almost 160 weapons. Here is her discussion with Gwen Ifill last month.

Shortly after the hearing, Feinstein’s office issued a statement indicating public support for the ban and citing statistics from a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, a report published Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The most forceful testimony came from gun rights activist Gayle Trotter, who advocated against legislation on the grounds that “guns make women safer” if they are defending themselves against home invaders. Trotter didn’t get much love during and after the hearing for her testimony. Slate reporter Amanda Marcotte analyzed her remarks here.

The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe and David Farenthold assessed the hearing in full and concluded, “A consensus is emerging among lawmakers for an expansion of background checks for gun buyers, a proposal with far more bipartisan support than a reinstatement of the federal assault-weapons ban.”

The NewsHour put together a detailed report on the day’s drama. Watch here or below:


More of our coverage of the gun debate can be found here.

On immigration, Mr. Obama participated in interviews with two television networks catering to Spanish-language audiences. On Telemundo the president said he won’t pull back on enforcement of the law or scale back deportation. He acknowledged it could be a tough political battle ahead but emphasized his commitment to the issue.

“The one thing I can guarantee is my effort,” Mr. Obama told Telemundo. “I can guarantee that I will put everything I’ve got behind it. We’re putting our shoulder to the wheel.”

He told Univision that he wants to see legislation move forward swiftly.

“If they are on a path as they have already said, where they want to get a bill done by March, then I think that’s a reasonable timeline and I think we can get that done. I’m not going to lay down a particular date because I want to give them a little room to debate,” he said. “If it slips a week, that’s one thing. If it starts slipping three months, that’s a problem.”

The New York Times’ Michael Shear and Mark Landler report that administration aides are sounding confident notes about political momentum being on the president’s side.

Politico’s Lois Romano writes of an effort afoot in the House by four Republicans and four Democrats. She reports they “had hoped to put forth a statement of principles as early as Friday, but sources say that is unlikely” and it could be closer to Feb. 12, the day of the State of the Union.

With Mr. Obama’s annual address to lawmakers less than two weeks away and his plans to make his case at campaign-style events outside of Washington, the pressure on Congress will only increase.

SHIFTING CHAMBERS

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., told Judy Woodruff on Wednesday’s NewsHour that she had dinner with the women’s caucus on Tuesday, marking one of the first social meetings for the record number of female senators.

“I got a chance really to talk with my new colleagues about our approach, our process and how we go about tackling problems and solving problems,” Baldwin said. “I think, as we work together, it’s going to be a very exciting opportunity. And I have always believed that when our legislative bodies look like a cross-section of America, we’re better governed.”

Baldwin also expressed hope that Congress would move past gridlock on passing a budget and find ways to pass immigration and gun legislation.

As the first openly gay U.S. senator, Baldwin said she was pleased that Mr. Obama’s inaugural address linked the modern agenda on gay rights with historical civil rights moments. That part of the speech was a “welcome call to all of us who serve in legislative branches and others that now is the time — now is the time to take additional steps ,” she said.

Watch the interview here or below:


View our collection of entrance interviews with newly elected Senators here.

LINE ITEMS

  • Former Nebraska GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel will testify Thursday in a confirmation hearing to become defense secretary. We’ll be live-blogging the event. The Washington Post examines his charm offensive in the weeks leading up to the hearing. The NewsHour will offer in-depth coverage Thursday night that you can watch live at 6 p.m. ET via this livestream link.

  • Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., on Wednesday called the allegations that he had engaged in sex with prostitutes in the Dominican Republic a political smear by the right-leaning Daily Caller website, according to this story by the Miami Herald. The Herald profiles a Menendez donor from South Florida whose office was raided this week by the FBI. Menendez’s office confirmed that the senator took three trips on the donor’s private jet in 2010, but insisted the travel was paid for and properly documented.

  • Several news outlets are following the Chicago Sun-Times report that Obama bundler Penny Prtizker could be the next secretary of commerce.

  • Massachusetts Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick tapped William “Mo” Cowan, his former chief of staff, as the interim senator to replace John Kerry, who will be sworn in Friday as secretary of state. A successor will be chosen in a special election June 25.

  • An automated poll from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling found Democratic Rep. Ed Markey in a dead heat with former GOP Sen. Scott Brown for the Massachusetts Senate seat. Brown has not said whether he will enter the race. A MassINC survey released last week showed Brown with a 53 percent to 31 percent advantage over Markey in a potential matchup.

  • Roll Call’s Joshua Miller writes that Rep. Paul Broun is going to jump into the Georgia Senate race. Expect a feisty Republican primary.

  • James Hohmann of Politico read an advance copy of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s book “The Last Line of Defense.” Highlights include Hohmann’s observation that the Republican gubernatorial candidate does not thank current GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell in the acknowledgements and that “few political professionals would encourage a candidate to write this kind of book.”

  • Stu Rothenberg goes there and argues that New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie is over-hyped.

  • The libertarian-leaning Reason Foundation conducted a poll on the elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn., and other issues and found that 52 percent of Americans believe politicians have exploited the murders for political gain — with an overwhelming number of Republicans feeling that way (71 percent), compared with Democrats (32 percent) and independents (60 percent). Here’s the Reason-Rupe poll results in full and a story with the highlights.

  • The Center for Public Integrity reports that spending by lobbying firms nearly doubled in the fourth quarter.

  • Thirty-nine percent of Texas voters, including 67 percent of Republicans, would like to see Mr. Obama impeached, a new Public Policy Polling survey found.

  • Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott agrees that he won’t challenge Gov. Rick Perry if he seeks re-election in the 2014 Republican primary, Perry said Wednesday.

  • The New York Times reports that Chinese hackers attacked the newspaper of record’s site for four months after it reported on the wealth of members of the Chinese prime minister’s family.

  • The Wall Street Journal’s Russell Adams details a game of tag that has been going on for more than two decades.

  • Thursday’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA highlights that the number of guns in the United States exceeds the number of people.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

TOP TWEETS

Cassie M. Chew contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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