Uh oh: Biden suddenly calls in Senate Dem for gun-talk consultation

What changed? A couple of days ago, Senate Democrat and lead negotiator Chris Murphy told CNN that Joe Biden should stay out of talks between the two parties over a legislative response to the mass shooting in Uvalde. “I think the Senate needs to do this ourselves,” the Connecticut Democrat declared on State of the Union Sunday morning. This morning, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended Biden’s non-participation in the talks on Good Morning America:

“This is a priority for him. This is a very serious issue for this president, but right now, we’re watching what Congress is doing, because we can’t do this alone, he cannot do this alone, and we’re very encouraged,” Jean-Pierre told “GMA” co-anchor Robin Roberts, who pressed her on whether Biden was personally lobbying senators after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 children and 2 teachers were killed.

“So, I’ll say this, the president has been very clear,” Jean-Pierre continued. “He made his speech on Thursday. He spoke directly to the American public to continue to lay out the importance of dealing with gun violence, how this is destroying schools clearly and communities and how we have to act now and we cannot wait any longer.”

“But he wants to give the Senate and Congress on the Hill some space to have that conversation,” she added. “It sounds very promising. We are encouraged by it.”

Shortly after that, though …

So much for “space,” eh? Jean-Pierre cited Biden’s national address last week as sufficient guidance for Murphy and other Democrats on what Biden expected from a gun-control package. The speech ended up impressing no one and offering even less in potential compromise — so much so that Senate Dems tried warning the White House to butt out, as The Hill reported late yesterday:

Senate negotiators working to come to an agreement on gun violence legislation are asking the White House to stay out of the talks.

Some have said that President Biden’s involvement wouldn’t be “helpful” after he called on Congress to pass gun control measures, some of which aren’t even supported by all 50 Democrats. …

John LaBombard, former communications director to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), argued that aspirational statements from Biden that don’t reflect reality won’t help to get legislation done.

“When legislating, we need to start by recognizing the reality of vote margins, and some of President Biden’s proposed solutions have no chance of earning the necessary support in a 50-50 split Senate,” said LaBombard, now a senior vice president at ROKK.

“The senators engaged in these negotiations know better than anyone else what’s realistically possible — and they have much more credibility than the White House does with the Republican Senators we’ll need if a deal is reached,” LaBombard added.

So why jump in at this precise moment, when it appears that the Senate may be moving closer to a consensus on some possible reforms? Perhaps it’s just to have Murphy brief Biden on the progress, as ABC News reported shortly after Jean-Pierre’s tweet. Why that would take a meeting rather than a phone call or even just staffer contact isn’t terribly clear, but it’s possible.

More likely, though, is that Biden’s gotten a whiff of the limits of what’s possible, and it doesn’t include most of his demands from last week’s speech. That would leave Biden looking foolish and overreaching, not to mention his role in raising expectations to irrational levels yet again on what he can do with a 50/50 Senate. This sudden desire for a tete-a-tete at least suggests that Biden’s not happy about being cut out of the loop, especially given that the White House spin almost literally minutes earlier was that his speech was sufficient and Biden wanted to give Murphy “space” for negotiations.

What might have caused the change in direction? Punchbowl News reported this morning on what’s likely possible … and what clearly isn’t:

At the moment, the bipartisan group seems to be making positive progress on a narrow package that could get through the 50-50 Senate. They’re coalescing around a proposal to incentivize states to create red-flag laws. Republicans are also increasingly comfortable with expanding background checks to include a gun purchaser’s juvenile record. Cruz said he would examine all of these proposals.

Republicans on the negotiating team say they won’t support raising the age to purchase semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21 or other more sweeping proposals pushed by gun-control advocates. …

Cornyn has made clear that he won’t agree to any proposal that seriously infringes on gun rights. He will need McConnell’s backing as well. The key test will become whether a majority of Republicans support it, which Cornyn wants to see happen. Here’s more from Cornyn:

“I’m optimistic we can get 60-plus votes. But the question is what that package looks like. And that’s what we’re in the process of doing is figuring out what the package will look like and how do we get to 60-plus. But I think … where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

That would deliver almost nothing from Biden’s wish list last week. As Jack Shafer noted, his speech sounded completely out of touch with political reality, a sermon for the choir rather than a serious attempt to engage. Will Biden torpedo Murphy’s more serious attempt to engage in order to save face and keep his opportunities to demagogue? Murphy’s readout from the meeting suggests that the answer is no:

Stay tuned, but I wonder whether Biden will pipe up on his own to force more of his demands back into the talks and derail them. At this point, one has to wonder whether any of the current Senate Democrats are interested in Biden’s input on either policy or political strategy, though. He’s proven himself entirely incompetent on both, and they may well be disinclined to provide Biden any more political cover for it.

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