Newtown family members entreat Congress over need for gun controls

Family members of the children and educators killed in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting are on Capitol Hill Tuesday, lobbying on behalf of Obama's push for gun control legislation.

Susan Walsh/AP
President Obama hugs Newtown, Conn., family members after speaking at the University of Hartford in Hartford, Conn., on Monday. The president said US lawmakers have an obligation to the children killed and other victims of gun violence to act on his proposals.
Cliff Owen/AP
Families who lost relatives in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting walk off Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., on Monday. They came to Washington at the invitation of President Obama to lobby Congress on the need for gun-control legislation.

Family members of the children and educators killed in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting are on Capitol Hill Tuesday, engaging in face-to-face lobbying as part the Obama administration’s effort to persuade reluctant lawmakers to enact stricter gun controls.

Eleven Newtown family members flew into Washington Monday night on Air Force One, accompanying President Obama as he returned home from giving a gun control speech in Hartford, Conn. According to a pool report from Amie Parnes of The Hill newspaper, the president carried a red bag off the plane that contained T-shirts that said, “Team Vicki Soto.” She was one of the teachers killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and the T-shirts were given to Mr. Obama by her sister, Jillian. 

In addition to the Newtown families’ lobbying efforts on the Hill, Tuesday afternoon Vice President Joseph Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder will, in remarks at the White House, call on Congress to approve gun legislation. Earlier, the two men will meet with law enforcement officials from around the country. 

The lobbying effort continues Wednesday when first lady Michelle Obama will make what the Los Angeles Times calls “a rare foray into a contentious issue,” by hosting a summit on youth violence in Chicago, her home town. 

These efforts are aimed at trying to get legislation through the Senate that will stiffen background checks on gun buyers. It is a heavy lift. Thirteen conservative Republican senators have written to majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada to say they will filibuster gun control legislation. With 53 Senate Democrats and two independents who usually vote with Democrats, Senator Reid is short of the 60 votes he would need to proceed.

That explains why the Obama White House’s political arm, Organizing for Action, announced Monday that it is running a series of Facebook ads. As Politico reported, the ads target 10 Republican senators and one Democrat (Martin Heinrich of New Mexico) on gun control.

The Associated Press reports that Senate Democrats will hold a lunchtime meeting on Tuesday to decide whether to seek a compromise with Republicans on gun legislation or try to advance a bill over Republican efforts. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania are trying to reach an agreement on background checks. NBC News’ First Read reports that the proposed deal would require background checks for purchases at gun shows and on the Internet but not for person-to-person sales.     

One question is whether the filibuster threat by the Republican senators is a politically wise move. As the analysts at NBC News write, "It’s hard not to view the filibuster attempt as a potential strategic error just on the politics. Why? Because it paints the GOP as obstructionists, and it lowers the bar for victory for Obama (to simply beating the GOP filibuster). Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said as much over the weekend. 'I don’t understand it,' he said. 'What are we afraid of?…. If this issue is as important as all of us think it is … why not take it up and debate?' "

That is especially true, the First Read team argues, because Senate Republicans have a built-in “pocket veto” called the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. “While we understand the base politics on this issue, this seems to be yet another way the GOP brand is getting tarnished with swing voters, even with voters who may be sympathetic with the pro-gun argument but are turned off by the idea of how politics is practiced in Washington right now," the First Read team says. 

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