In other words, the president seems to be everywhere. But to what end? It is something that worries Democrats heading toward the November midterm elections. But is it a problem of messaging or of policy, of words without impact or simply a sign of a weary and unhappy electorate that has stopped paying close attention to a president? Whatever it is, the political ramifications are serious. Biden has little time to figure it out, if it can be figured out, before voters render their judgment on his first two years in office.
When Biden spoke about gun violence on Thursday night, there was applause from advocates of tougher gun laws for the specificity and passion with which he outlined measures to deal with the epidemic of mass shootings. He called for banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and enacting red-flag laws to take potential killers off the streets before they kill. After signals that he would stay out of the debate on Capitol Hill, he jumped in, prodded lawmakers and preemptively pinned blame on Republicans if nothing serious happens.
To those who liked the speech, Biden’s remarks could be seen as an example of presidential leadership in a time of national crisis, of a chief executive saying something with which many Americans agree, even if what he called for is not immediately achievable. But if the president’s words won’t move lawmakers to act, will they move voters to take out their dissatisfaction on Republicans in November, which was part of the president’s goal?
Thursday wasn’t the first time Biden has spoken out strongly with limited hope for real action. In January, he spoke in Georgia about voting rights, demanding action and comparing those who opposed a federal law to expand access to voting — which was blocked by Senate Republicans from even being debated — with George Wallace, Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis. Yet neither he nor Senate Democrats have a strategy to move the bill forward, a fact that exasperated civil rights and voting rights groups, who wondered what was the point of it all.
The roadblock on guns is one of long-standing. Biden isn’t the first president to fail to move Congress after a tragic shooting. The president he served as vice president, Barack Obama, couldn’t overcome the gun lobby after the horrific Sandy Hook shootings a decade ago.
Biden in fact has a record of success on the issue: As a senator, he helped pass what he is asking for now, a ban on assault weapons. That was in 1994. It lasted a decade and was allowed to lapse.
On Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of senators continues to work. Signals are mixed about eventual success. Even the most modest piece of legislation,…