On September 16, the day of the Navy Yard gun massacre in Washington, D.C, White House spokesman Jay Carney took questions from assembled journalists when CNN's Jim Acosta asked about the shooting rampage, where a gunman killed 12 people.
“Navy Yard, Newtown, Tucson, Aurora, Fort Hood,” Acosta said, ticking off a list of recent mass shootings in the United States. “Is the President concerned that his administration will be marked by an inability to resolve this issue of mass shootings?”
Huh? Obama's to blame for not stopping mass shootings?
The fact is that following last December's gun massacre at the Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Connecticut, and after becoming the first president since Dwight Eisenhower to win election and reelection with 51 percent of the vote or more, Obama made gun violence a top legislative priority. “Obama and Biden gave more than 30 speeches, interviews and online chats, oftentimes with families of gun victims at their side,” according to McClatchy newspapers.
First Lady Michelle Obama became actively involved in the gun legislation push. The president personally reached out to Republican members of Congress to press his case, as well as meeting with families from the Newtown shooting, while Obama's political organization, Organizing for Action, held rallies and vigils nationwide to build momentum for legislative action.
In the end, none of it mattered because the vast majority of Republicans refused to support the proposed background check bill, just as the vast majority of Republicans have refused to support virtually any White House initiative since 2009. As Congressional historians Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann recently noted, “Persuasion matters if the people you are trying to persuade have any inclination to go along, or any attachment to the concept of compromise.” (Republicans do not.)
What made the gun bill's defeat so shocking was it came in the wake of the haunting school slaying. Plus, according to many polls, more than 90 percent of Americans support background checks for all gun buyers, the central facet of the failed legislation. Yet Republicans threatened a filibuster and refused to allow the bill to proceed.
As Carney patiently explained to Acosta, his question about the political inability to resolve the issue of mass shootings was probably better put to Republican senators, 91 percent of whom voted against the background check bill, and to the larger Republican Party which made universally clear in the wake of Sandy Hook that it would block any attempt by Obama and Democrats to tighten gun laws in America, no matter how many mass shootings unfold on our television screens.
Viewed in a larger context, the strange CNN question revealed more about the state of the Beltway media than it did about Obama's “inability to resolve” gun rampages. It was telling that a reporter sought to assign blame to the person trying to fix the problem of mass shootings, and not to the people standing in the way of that attempt.
A Beltway media truth: The failed gun vote, engineered by obstructionist Republicans, highlights Obama's political shortcomings. A second Beltway media truth: The blocked gun vote reveals little about the state of today's GOP.
Even though one of Obama's lonely Republican allies blamed fellow Republicans for the stunning gun vote and for wanting to stand in the way of an Obama achievement, the press to this day much prefers the narrative it adopted in April: The lost gun vote reflects Obama's political failures, not the outsized obstructionist zealotry of his partisan foes.
Now, in the wake of Navy Yard massacre, the press has circled back and is pointing to the gun vote once again. For those busy writing up pieces about how Obama's second tern is supposedly unraveling (and lots of people are claiming it is), a popular point of reference is the fact that Obama couldn't even get a popular background check bill passed by Congress.
On ABC's This Week, Obama was pressed about his “stalled” agenda, and the gun vote specifically, and asked if “this has been a lost year” for his presidency. The National Journal included the background check bill, obstructed by Republicans, as a telling example of the many “failures, setbacks, and incompletes Obama has piled up” this year. And the Associated Press recently claimed the gun measure was “shadowing the president.”
Nine out of ten Republican senators refused to support a bill that nine out of ten Americans supported, but it's Obama who's to blame? It's Obama who failed and who has to carry around the political weight of the gun vote loss?
As the threat of another government shutdown looms just one week away, and as Democrats and Republican jockey for political advantage in terms of how the story plays out in the press, it's instructive to see how effortlessly the press echoed GOP talking points in the wake of the gun vote and how, five months later, so many pundits and reporters still parrot the preferred Republican telling about how it was Obama who botched the gun vote.
Because when Republicans vote en mass to block popular bills, it's Obama's fault.