Power Play

Obama Poised to Fail First Test of Second-Term Clout

Obama poised to fail first test of second term clout, immigration reform and budget talks. Chris Stiewalt and guests discuss


“This is not about me. This is not about politics.”

-- President Obama at a Connecticut campaign event calling for firearms restrictions.

President Obama said that it would be “a tough day” in his presidency if Congress failed to pass legislation in response to the December massacre at a Connecticut grade school.

It looks like the president has a tough day or two ahead.

The provision Obama is pushing hardest now is an expansion of background checks for gun purchases. That would not have affected the Newtown killer, since he did not purchase the weapons used in the killings, but rather took them from his mother, whom he also killed.

The only gun-control provision on offer that advocates say might have lessened the death toll – a ban on the sale of new high-capacity magazines – has been declared not viable in the Democratic Senate due to a lack of support within the president’s party. And even that measure would only have reduced the death toll in Newtown if it had been in place when the killer’s mother purchased the weapons long ago.

The left’s most sought and now most lamented measure – a ban on civilian firearms mocked up to look like military models – was also nixed by a lack of Democratic support. And even that would have been of little use in Newtown, again providing that it was in place when the killer’s mother purchased the weapons.

One measure in the remaining pool of viability that might prevent future school shootings – an increase in federal grants for school safety – could pass easily with bipartisan support. But tossing some money at the problem doesn’t exactly sound like a response to Obama’s call that “as a society… we must change.”

Having failed to develop a legislative package that addressed the causes of the slaughter in Connecticut, Obama and his allies fell back to old Democratic standbys on gun control from the 1990s. And those measures don’t have as much to do with mass shootings or school shootings as they do with street crime and gun registration.

So often the case in his presidency, he and those he tasked with producing legislation, in this case, Vice President Joe Biden, could neither innovate nor develop consensus, even within Obama’s party. Whether a stimulus spending package, a new health-insurance entitlement, bank regulations, global warming fees or, now, school-shooting curbs, Obama most often seems to be a captive of Congress.

Obama is now left with making the first hard sell of his second term by calling for background check legislation in response to a school shooting, despite the fact that the legislation would have done nothing to prevent the shooting in question. And all because he rushed and then bungled the development of the package. The Obama mantra of “we can’t wait” has again proved a poor approach to big legislation.

The disconnect between the shooting and the legislation has made it easier for Republicans to harass the president on the subject.


As Obama’s firearms push clatters to an unhappy end, the remaining fight is over record keeping under the proposed expansion of background checks. The Obama-backed measure would create for the first time a federal registry of firearms sales. An alternative bipartisan measure, still struggling to get aloft, would expand background checks to all weapons sales involving a commercial intermediary (a Web site, the hosts of a gun show) but exempt transactions between individuals and, more importantly, not allow the feds to build a gun registry.

Democratic outrage over Republican threats to filibuster the provision including the registry might have more sting if anyone could argue that the measure would have prevented the Newtown killings.

While there is broad public support for expanding background checks, there is also considerable public concern that federal authorities might use such information to one day confiscate legally purchased weapons.

Expanded provisions for the inclusion of mental health concerns into background checks might have made a difference in Tucson, Aurora or Blacksburg. Those have been discussed, but have largely been dropped due to medical privacy laws and a cultural bias against involuntary psychiatric commitments.

But because Obama could not find a way to get his party to think anew and act anew on guns and because he focused on reviving old, largely unrelated, issues, the president went from the politically advantageous position of pushing for legislation in response to a specific tragedy to the politically disadvantaged, ancient bog of gun control.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“Well, I think every country at every time could use somebody as principled and smart and strong as [Margaret Thatcher].  I think what we don't quite remember in the gauzy recollections today is how despised she was, how widely despised at home and to some extent here among the left.  I mean, she angered everybody in her country from the communist union leaders to the upper class twits in her own party, which isn't easy to do.”

-- 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. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.