This speech is at 7:30 tonight, making it a rare evening address for POTUS. https://t.co/NHgLWnbxAy
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) June 2, 2022
A national address is the last thing he should do if he wants the Senate to make a deal on a gun bill. Nothing good ever comes from Democratic presidents preaching gun control. All it achieves is hardening the will of Republicans to resist.
But Biden’s not speaking tonight because he hopes to persuade Republicans. He’s speaking for the same reason he does so many things, to get the left off his back. Gun-control activists grumbled a few days ago that the White House’s message on guns is too heavy on grief and too light on action. “He can’t just be the ‘eulogizer in chief.’ He also needs to put the full force of his office into the legislative process,” said one. “It’s been Biden offering platitudes without offering any solutions. Who came up with this strategy? It’s just bizarre,” added another.
Do these people want to get something done or do they simply want to know that the president wants to get something done? Because those two goals are somewhat at cross-purposes.
In fact, what’s likely to happen tonight is a redux of the fiasco Democrats endured last year with infrastructure and Build Back Better. Progressives asked for the moon by demanding that both bills pass but the votes were there only for an infrastructure bill. It passed — and that was a major accomplishment, as an infrastructure deal had eluded Obama and Trump. But because the left couldn’t shut up about BBB, infrastructure ended up feeling like an afterthought, practically a disappointment. The same is at risk of happening if Biden demands the full suite of gun-control measures tonight: Universal background checks, an assault-weapons ban, a federal red-flag law, etc etc. There aren’t 60 votes for most of that but there may be 60 for one or two components, which again would be a real accomplishment in the abstract.
But when compared to Democrats’ “ask,” it’s destined again to feel like a failure.
I assume Biden’s going to focus in his remarks on touting the bill the House is marking up in committee today. The particulars:
Democrats want to bar the sale of semi-automatic rifles to anyone under 21; ban high-capacity ammunition magazines; prohibit the sales of “ghost gun” kits without a background check or serial numbers stamped on the parts used in assembling the weapon; boost penalties for illegal “straw purchases” of guns; and require gun owners to store their weapons safely, especially when minors are present.
The ban on SARs for under-21s is a good idea given the trend in recent mass shootings. It would probably be popular with the public too:
Just talked to a group of Trump voters in FL. Everyone in favor of over 21 laws to obtain a gun. Everyone in favor of banning assault rifles. Split on arming teachers—assuming it was voluntary. No one thought teachers should be mandated to carry guns. Split on door control.
— Sarah Longwell (@SarahLongwell25) June 1, 2022
But it’s unclear if there are 10 Republican votes in the Senate for that or for any of the other provisions mentioned. Rather, the Senate is focused on a much narrower bill involving “state-based red flag programs, school safety and mental health programs,” per Punchbowl. They seem to be finding common ground:
Sen. Susan Collins, who took part in the bipartisan gun talks this afternoon, said tonight: “We are making rapid progress toward a common sense package that could garner support from both Republicans and
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) June 2, 2022
The “red-flag” bill is mainly the handiwork of Lindsey Graham and Richard Blumenthal and would provide federal grant money to help states set up their own red-flag programs, which is preferable to enacting a federal red-flag law for reasons of both efficient administration and public trust. State courts are more accustomed to granting restraining orders. And, as NRO says today an editorial, gun owners are more likely to view a state court’s judgment as legitimate: “There is far too much distance between the federal government and the citizenry for this to work at a national level. There is a reason that Florida’s red-flag law — which was passed after the 2018 Parkland shooting — is run on a county-by-county basis, and administered by local police, and that reason is that, in this matter, local is better. The FBI is not set up to execute such a system, and the federal courts are not set up to adjudicate it. And, even if they were, Americans would be right to oppose elevating yet another question to the national level.”
The flaw in letting the states handle this, though, is that no state will be required to set up a red-flag system just because the feds make money available to facilitate it. How many red states declined to expand Medicaid under ObamaCare? Once the new red-flag grant system becomes a political hot potato, with the federal government encouraging states to crack down, populist gun-rights advocates will demand that local Republican officials stand up to them by saying no. And many of those officials will feel obliged for electoral reasons to do so.
There’s another reason Biden feels obliged to speak tonight apart from mucking up the works in the Senate, though. CNN has an enjoyable story out today about his aides staring at the enormous red wave that’s approaching offshore and fretting that they’re not “messaging” properly to head it off. They keep sending Biden out across the country to deliver canned speeches at factories or whatever only to find media interest so sparse that his remarks end up not being carried live. “You are thinking, why are we doing this?” said one to CNN. That explains the unusual timing of tonight’s address on guns, putting it in primetime when more people might see it, as well as stunts like inviting the K-pop group BTS to the White House a few days ago to address the subject of hate crimes against Asian-Americans. They’re desperate for eyeballs now that the public has all but tuned Biden out.
After 50 years of looking up to the Oval Office, televised speeches and front-page stories are how [Biden] thinks of a president making news, still conceiving of the presidency as a sort of Rooseveltian ideal where he can lay what’s happening for an audience gathered around to hear from a commander-in-chief whose schedule keeps getting cleared for him to write, edit and review each set of remarks…
Biden keeps showing up behind the same podiums surrounded by the same big screens, talking from a remove about what he feels and what he wants to do about it. He’s coming across disconnected, aides have acknowledged to allies in Congress and beyond. And then, they say, the same events keep getting planned.
“World’s most interactive man,” sighed one person familiar with White House operations after one of the recent events, “and we’re going to have him conduct the presidency from the set of Jeopardy.”
Why they think anything would improve if they had the sort of audiences they crave is a mystery to me. The red wave is coming and it has virtually nothing to do with Biden’s “messaging” or whether he’s properly utilizing modern platforms like TikTok. Barack Obama was a dynamic campaigner and often made use of untraditional forums (remember his interview with Zach Galifianakis on “Funny or Die?”), yet he got pulverized twice by the GOP in midterms.
But if you work in the White House full time, I suppose you have to believe there’s always *something* you can do to influence events whether that’s true or not. Certainly you can’t just sit there twiddling your thumbs as Republicans get ready to flip the House. If you do, you’ll get snotty comments from left-wing activists about you being the “eulogizer-in-chief.” Hence tonight’s speech on guns, designed to show his base that Biden’s doing something. Even though what he’s likely to end up doing is more harm than good.