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Obama Taps Biden to Oversee Effort on Addressing Gun Laws, Violence

Lighting a Candle

A woman lights candles Tuesday at a memorial to the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters.

The Morning Line

President Obama is not allowing the national sense of urgency on addressing gun violence slip away this week, as he also juggles negotiations on avoiding going over the year-end fiscal cliff.

On Wednesday morning, Mr. Obama will speak to reporters at the White House to announce that Vice President Biden will be tasked with moving things forward on gun policy. White House aides told the Morning Line that Biden “will spearhead an inter-agency process to formulate policies in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy.”

There aren’t any big policy decisions expected, but the administration aims to move swiftly in the wake of Friday’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.

As we reported, Mr. Obama huddled with Biden, Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Monday afternoon to start working on a path forward.


White House press secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday said the president supports congressional efforts to reinstate the assault weapons ban and the closure of the so-called “gun show loophole,” which allows people to skirt background checks.

Meantime, House Speaker John Boehner told his House Republicans on Tuesday “they needed to ‘have a discussion on guns,'” The Hill reported.

The news comes as the National Rifle Association broke its silence with a statement expressing shock and saying members are “heartbroken.” The organization plans a Friday news conference to announce that it wants to offer “meaningful contributions” to prevent future tragedies. (This Slate Explainer column from earlier this year provides interesting details on how the NRA has become such a powerful lobbying force.)

The parent of a Sandy Hook Elementary student who survived the attack put pressure on the NRA when he visited Washington on Tuesday to ask for stricter gun laws. He spoke at a news conference with Democratic Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence President Dan Gross.

Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., and Jack Kingston, R-Ga., teamed up in a bipartisan call for a gun control effort. “The only experience I’ve had with assault weapons was the one that I was trained with when I was in the Army,” Kingston said Tuesday. “I know that this is not a war on guns. Gun owners and hunters across this country have every right to own legitimate guns for legitimate purposes and…we are not going to take law-abiding citizens’ guns away from them.”

On Tuesday’s NewsHour, Gwen Ifill talked to Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, who has earned an “A” rating from the NRA, about his thoughts on the assault weapons ban and gun control since Friday’s massacre.

Warner said his college-age daughters asked him what he could do, and he realized that “enough is enough.”

Warner said the NRA should be a voice in the conversation and should “reassure that nobody is going to be out trying to say we need to take away your shotgun or take away the kind of components that are part of American culture in terms of the right to hunt, the right to enjoy the outdoors with firearms.”

But I do think that simply saying that the status quo is acceptable and bemoaning another tragedy six or nine months from now, without any real close examination of seeing what laws and rules and regulations need to be changed, would be a real mistake and wouldn’t do — wouldn’t be the appropriate honoring the legacy of those poor kids that lives were taken.

And, quite honestly, I have to give my three daughters a better answer than I gave them on Friday night. I have got to be able to say, you know, I was part of trying to at least get some level of solution, so this kind of tragedy doesn’t happen again.

Watch the interview here or below:


Other pro-gun Democrats seem to be softening their positions as well, Roll Call’s Humberto Sanchez reports.

The NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan spoke with grief-stricken members of the Newtown community about their views on guns. The frank conversation comes as the town is inundated with reporters, and the residents’ frustration is apparent.

“I feel the politicians have failed to protect our children. And they cannot continue to do this to our children. They need to really pass legislation that is going to have a meaningful impact to prevent further tragedy,” said Po Murrey, who lived 100 yards from the Lanza family. She said the killings can be a “watershed” moment to spark meaningful change.

Watch Hari’s report here or below:


ON THE CLIFF’S EDGE

With Mr. Obama’s new fiscal plan on the table, the country is closer to a deal than ever. Just a few things remain: Boehner must sell tax increases to his fellow Republicans (the president’s offer is on those who make more than $400,000 a year) and Mr. Obama must contend with Democrats (and supporters such as major labor unions) who are unhappy with his compromise for a cut to Social Security.

Of course, the stakes remain high. Many economists believe that if the two parties do not reach a deal by year’s end, then the country would plunge back into recession. A CBS News poll released Tuesday found that a majority of Americans fear severe economic problems if no deal comes through. Still, more than 50 percent of those surveyed said they side with Mr. Obama and the Democrats’ proposal.

Even as the speaker and the president continue to negotiate and as staffers plot out the broader plan, members of the House tell us they expect two big Thursday votes: one on increasing taxes just for millionaires and one on extending tax cuts for those earning less than $250,000 per year.

On Tuesday’s NewsHour, Judy Woodruff talked to the Wall Street Journal’s Carol Lee and PRI’s Todd Zwillich to get the latest.

Lee said the new proposal from Mr. Obama has changed the nature of the standoff. While the ball is now in Boehner’s court, both parties are close to an agreement and can focus on tweaking the terms, or “dialing things up or dialing things down,” she said.

“They’re having a counting dispute over whether this thing counts as a tax increase or whether savings on interest counts as real savings,” Zwillich said. They’re having an arithmetic dispute, but really in the end they’re only $40 or $50 billion apart.”

But there’s another track. Both sides have a “plan B” — a fallback position on which their opponents would disagree and that would come into play if the negotiations don’t work.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., expressed his disapproval with a fallback scenario Tuesday and pointed out how the deal may fall apart:

Speaker Boehner’s ‘plan B’ is the farthest thing from a balanced approach. It will not protect middle class families because it cannot pass both Houses of Congress. The Senate bill is the only ‘plan B’ that can be signed into law and prevent taxes from rising by $2,200 on the average middle-class family.

Now is the time to show leadership, not kick the can down the road. Speaker Boehner should focus his energy on forging a large-scale deficit reduction agreement. It would be a shame if Republicans abandoned productive negotiations due to pressure from the Tea Party, as they have time and again.

The White House’s plan B remains the same as before — to roll back taxes for people making above $250,000.

Both fallback plans seem unlikely to happen and instead represent political strategy, Lee said. The backup plan from Boehner allows him to show his party that he will play hardball and that he’s prepared in case the opposition pulls away. He’s in need of that backup now that he faces the challenge of selling Republicans on a plan that includes tax increases.

Watch the segment here or below:


LINE ITEMS

  • Congress begins looking at long voting lines Wednesday. Kwame Holman will report on the hearings.

  • Another poll finds Mr. Obama’s approval rating on the rise.

  • Time Person of the Year? Surprise, it’s Mr. Obama.

  • Sen. Daniel Inouye will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda on Thursday.

  • The Wall Street Journal’s Patrick O’Connor sees Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as a critical player in the fiscal cliff debate.

  • The Hill details Congress’ long to-do list as time in the lame-duck session runs out.

  • Roll Call’s Megan Scully and Emily Cadei report that former Sen. Chuck Hagel might face a “rough ride” to be confirmed as defense secretary. It’s expected that Mr. Obama will nominate the Nebraska Republican to the post this week.

  • The Wall Street Journal reports that Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker is leaning toward running for Senate in 2014 instead of challenging GOP Gov. Chris Christie.

  • Virginia GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell said in an interview Tuesday that he would be open to discussing allowing school officials to carry guns.

  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., no longer keeps guns under her bed.

  • Politico’s Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns see guns as a defining issue in the 2013 gubernatorial contests in Virginia and New Jersey.

  • Bloomberg News reports that the Obama administration’s Cabinet agencies aren’t releasing their travel expense reports on time.

  • The Root’s Lottie Joiner finds a generation of young black politicians stepping aside.

  • Paula Broadwell will not face charges of cyberstalking former CIA Director David Petraeus, with whom she had an extramarital affair.

  • Jess Livoti-Morales rounds up on Twitter the female staffers critical to Mr. Obama’s re-election.

  • Could Ben Affleck mount a Senate bid in Massachusetts? The Boston CBS affiliate teases the actor as a candidate.

  • Wednesday’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA is about Supplemental Security Income, a Social Security program for the poor, blind and disabled:

Over the last 10 years, the SSI program grew from 6.5 million recipients in 2002, averaging $404 a month in payments – to 7.9 million recipients in 2012, averaging $497 a month. At this rate program officials predict recipients will top 10 million by 2036.

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