“I will put everything I’ve got into this, and so will [Vice President Joe Biden].”
-- President Obama at a Jan. 16 event with families of children slain at the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
President Obama often talks about a lack of “political will” or “political courage” in Congress on difficult issues. Today, he has the chance to show some himself.
The primary obstacle to the sweeping gun-control legislation he demanded in the wake of the horrific December school shootings in Connecticut is currently a dozen or so Democratic senators who have balked at the president’s plan.
Two weeks ago, Harry Reid, the leader of the blue team in the Senate, yanked the centerpiece of Obama’s plan, presumably with the consent or at least knowledge of the president.
Today, Obama will make a speech in conjunction with the National Day to Demand Action by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, led by New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. (The group’s name is misleading. The mayors do oppose illegal guns, but their primary purpose is making more guns illegal.)
The group is currently running an ad campaign against vulnerable red state Democrats and blue state Republicans demanding a ban on rifles and pistols mocked up to look like military firearms as well as high-capacity magazines.
The group’s ads are unlikely to do much to sway the opinion of the gun owners it purports to address since it features an unnamed spokesman wielding a shotgun in a way that would make any responsible gun owner cringe: chamber closed, finger on the trigger and pointed sideways as children play nearby.
For folks who think “bolt, pump or lever” when it comes to action on firearms, the ad is not a winner. It has shades of the infamous 2010 Republican Senate ad in West Virginia that sought “hicky” actors in a casting call.
But the real objective here is not so much to sway public opinion but to let these lawmakers know that Bloomberg is watching them and will make life difficult next year for those who do not join his and Obama’s effort for a gun ban.
Senate Democrats are not thrilled, especially the five facing re-election next year in states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012. Bloomberg’s group has already held up a Democratic primary for a vacant House seat in Illinois as his model for next year. Bloomberg pushed cash into the Democratic primary to defeat a gun-rights Democrat last month.
Facing a billionaire on a mission is never great. Facing one over an issue that animates the liberal, activist core of the Democratic primary electorate is a total bummer.
But Bloomberg knows that to start applying serious pressure to Republicans on gun control, he needs to either get Democrats lined up on the subject or continue the party’s purge of moderates in the hopes of an eventual gun ban.
Obama joining Bloomberg’s Day to Demand Action is pretty close to an endorsement of the mayoral squeeze play. Certainly, liberals who blanched when Reid yanked the gun ban bill will take encouragement and heighten their hopes that the president has not given up the fight.
But will he?
The most likely scenario playing out in the Senate right now is that lawmakers will pass a watered-down version of an expansion of background checks for gun purchases, a ban which would be watered down even more by the House. And even that process looks to be politically expensive, time consuming and complicated.
Congress is gagging on the work of passing a full-year budget that includes an increase to the debt limit. Meanwhile, the president said Tuesday that he expects the Senate to concurrently pass a comprehensive package on immigration, which faces opposition on the left and right. The cherry on top will be a pair of highly controversial nominees for key cabinet posts.
Obama may claim that Congress can “walk and chew gum at the same time” but surely his bitter experience with both united and divided government has convinced him that his claim is just not true.
The closer we get to 2014, the harder it will be to pass controversial legislation. And with voters crabby over higher taxes, higher gas prices, higher health insurance costs and a stagnant economy, it will be even more difficult to get those running for re-election to take risks on social issues.
As the horror of Newtown fades, so does the pressure on lawmakers to enact a gun ban. The Long Island Rail Road shootings of 1993 helped create the initial ban on mock military weapons, but it took relentless work by President Bill Clinton in the months that followed to get it done, particularly with pro-gun Democrats.
Obama can either choose to join Bloomberg in the squeeze play on Senate Democrats, thereby risking the rest of his agenda, or he can retreat again into vast clouds of words, signaling that he’s more interested in passing something that can be called gun control than in passing gun control itself.
With his approval ratings on the slide, the nation growing more pessimistic and the prospect of an all-Republican Congress now a reality, the latter looks more likely.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“I'm cynical. I'm so cynical I make Diogenes look credulous. With this administration, I don't buy anything they are telling me. When they reopen the White House so little Iowa tots can go on visits, I will begin believing in them again.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.