President Obama's display of anger and frustration at the Senate for rejecting a major gun-control bill did more than signal presidential pique. His emotional response also showed his recognition of how deep the polarization in Washington runs and seemed to suggest how difficult it will be to find compromise on major issues such as immigration and deficit reduction in the future.
The gun vote was a major defeat for Obama, certainly his worst since winning a second term last November.
He was particularly upset because he said polls show that 90 percent of Americans endorse expanded background checks for would-be gun purchasers. But that provision went down to defeat in the Senate along with proposals to ban the sale of military-style assault weapons and large ammunition magazines. "All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington," Obama said.
Obama called on voters to punish legislators who voted against the amendments, particularly the background-check provision, for which Obama fought hard and which was rejected by the Senate on a 54-46 vote Wednesday. Sixty votes were needed for passage.
Speaking in the Rose Garden and surrounded by families who lost loved ones in an elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn. last year, Obama told the country that supporters of gun control need to be persistent. "You, the American people have got to sustain the passion on this," Obama declared, insisting that he would not give up. "Sooner or later we are going to get this right," he said.
Obama's harsh tone was a marked shift from his feel-good "charm offensive" that had him dining with key Republican senators in recent weeks. He had dinner with a dozen Democratic senators Wednesday evening.
Organizing for Action, an advocacy group run by former Obama campaign aides, announced that it would hold a "day of action" Saturday in various states to demand movement on gun control from senators who might still be persuadable, an OFA spokesman said in an email message to supporters. "We won't sit around and let Congress drag its heels while Americans are coming together to demand action," said the spokesman. "We won't wait for the next Newtown."
Democratic strategists say they expect very tough fights over immigration, deficit reduction and climate change in the months ahead.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book, Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and followed on Facebook and Twitter.