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Senate Democrats huddle on gun measures

January 31, 2013|By Michael A. Memoli
  • Vice President Joe Biden met with Senate Democrats to explain the White House's proposals on preventing gun violence.
Vice President Joe Biden met with Senate Democrats to explain the White… (Steve Helber / Associated…)

WASHINGTON – Vice President Joe Biden met Thursday with Senate Democrats to brief the caucus about the rationale behind the administration’s recommendations on guns, arguing that, in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting, the nation “will not understand if we don’t act.”

Biden seemed intent to emphasize that the most politically challenging of the initiatives he has  recommended – an assault weapons ban – was still a priority for the administration, mentioning it first in remarks to reporters afterward.

“My message was to lay out for my colleagues what our game plan was, what we thought needed to be done,” Biden said after the more than hourlong meeting. “I made the case for not only assault weapons but for the entire set of recommendations the president laid out.”

Biden said he also asked to sit down with the key parties on Capitol Hill to plot strategy going forward.

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A day after the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on guns, the vice president said there has been a “sea change” in public opinion since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, calling it the “straw that broke the camel’s back” to get the public behind gun measures for the first time in decades.

“I’m not saying there’s an absolute consensus on all these things,” he said. “But there is a sea change in attitudes of the American people. And I believe that the American people will not understand – and I know everyone in that caucus agrees with me – will not understand if we don’t act.”

Participants in the meeting said the vice president indicated he will continue to travel to make the administration’s case, as will the president. A week ago Biden traveled to Richmond, Va., to focus on the call for universal background checks, which is seen as the most likely of the slate of proposals to pass.

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At that time, Biden did not mention the assault weapons ban in remarks to reporters afterward, though aides said it did come up in the private discussion with officials present.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said Biden told the caucus Thursday that the administration is still behind the ban, a priority of her California colleague, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

“He said this is something that they support. And that the reports that he’s seen have shown that it did make a difference,” Boxer said.

That remains a challenge though, even in the Democratic-controlled Senate because the Democrats must defend 21 seats in 2014.

“Until I see the bills and the language, the only thing I’m going to say is I’m a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment. We’ve got to find a balanced approach, and I will take each amendment and bill as it comes,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who will be seeking reelection next year in a deeply Republican state.

Biden maintained that while there is no way to eliminate the possibility of another mass shooting, “there are things that we can do … that have virtually zero impact on your 2nd Amendment right to own a weapon for both self-defense and recreation that can save some lives.”

“I’ve always been confident we can reach a consensus on a broad cross-section of issues that can reduce some of this violence, even knowing it will be imperfect,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

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