Where Have You Been?

Barack Obama doesn't do many press conferences, so when he came into the White House briefing room today it was because he had something important to say. Obama announced that Vice President Joe Biden will be heading a task force, or perhaps a working group—whatever you're going to call it, don't call it a commission ("This is not some Washington commission," Obama said)–to figure out just what can be done to reduce gun violence. "I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this," he said. "We won't prevent them all, but that can't be an excuse not to try."

The reporters in the room didn't appear to be particularly interested. The first question Obama got—in fact, the first five questions—were not about Newtown or what kinds of measures on guns he might favor, but on the fiscal-cliff negotiations. As is typical among White House reporters—what they were after was the inside scoop, the low-down, the skinny. "Can you give us a candid update?" "Will you give more ground if you need to, or are you done?" "What is your next move? Are we in a position now where you're just waiting for the speaker to make a move?" "Do you still trust Speaker Boehner in this process?"

On the sixth question, a reporter finally asked about the issue of the day. But it was the last question, from ABC's Jake Tapper, that finally challenged the president. "It seems to a lot of observers that you made the political calculation in 2008, in your first term, and in 2012 not to talk about gun violence," Tapper said. "You had your position on renewing the ban on semi-automatic rifles that then-Senator Biden put into place, but you didn't do much about it. This is not the first incident of horrific gun violence of your four years. Where have you been?"

It was a good question. In Obama's first term, he signed two measures on guns, one allowing people to bring guns into national parks, and one allowing them to bring guns on Amtrak trains. Obama's answer—essentially, that he was busy with a lot of other things—is true as far as it goes, but it overlooks the fact that if he had wanted to be more aggressive on guns he certainly could have. Yet Obama has always been an intensely practical politician, waiting patiently for his opening and then moving swiftly once he sees it. Rightly or wrongly, he plainly believed before now that any measure to restrict access to guns was doomed. But now the horror of Newtown may have cracked the political window open, just a hair. We'll see if he finds a way to squeeze through.


So They Say

“We've been here before ... All too often we see these mass killings. And we mourn for those who have died in the past, and yet all our lives go on. But this time, it is different. And we all know it.”

Representative Caroline McCarthy at a House Democrats press conference today.


Daily Meme: Obama's Busy Day

  • Today was a jam-packed day for the president, chock-full of policy developments, pressers, and media adulation. It all started off with his coronation as Person of the Year by Time—for the second time in his presidency. 
  • The magazine's cover story on Obama, revolving around his 2012 campaign and the nerd army that led him to victory, ends with the sentence: "After four of the most challenging years in the nation’s history, his chance to leave office as a great President who was able to face crises and build a new majority coalition remains within reach." No pressure or anything. 
  • On top of that, he's reaching the endgame of the god-awful fiscal-cliff negotiations, the closest D.C. politicking ever gets to the tears, betrayal, and implausibility on display on Homeland every week. 
  • Although things looked close to being wrapped up yesterday, Boehner has pulled a surprise "Plan B" out of his caucus's pocket, pushing closer to the cliff. 
  • Then Obama held a presser (see above) on gun control, which ended up revolving around the increasingly tangled budget fight. Obama did announce that he plans to make gun control a "central issue" in his second term, and that the new year will see gun legislation sent to Congress from the White House. 
  • Vice-President Biden will lead the White House's efforts.
  • Near the end of the press conference, ABC News reporter Jake Tapper asked Obama, "Where have you been?" on gun control before now? Obama said, "I don't think I've been on vacation," and listed the economy, the auto industry, and the two wars as other things keeping him busy.
  • On top of that, as revealed by photos taken by Pete Souza, he's also had to tangle with superheroes on the side. 

What We're Writing

  • The Prospect staff offers a plan for fixing Obama's second term.
  • Robert Kuttner warns Obama against appointing Larry Summers as the next Fed chair.


What We're Reading

  • Nate Silver shows that gun ownership is the surest way of predicting ideology, over gender, race, geography, and other indicators. 
  • The Sunlight Foundation made a timeline of all the important moments in campaign finance since 2010. 
  • President Obama announced a commission to study new gun regulations.
  • Robert Bork passed away Wednesday.
  • Three State Department officials resign following a review of the Benghazi attacks.
  • UBS fined $1.5 billion in a settlement for the Libor-rigging scandal and two of their former traders face criminal charges.
  • Alex Pareene launches his annual hack list, with The New York Times landing at number 10.
  • Jonathan Chait thinks John Boehner has lost his caucus.


Poll of the Day

The 2010 class of right-wing Republican governors isn't faring so well these days. Michigan's Rick Snyder became the most unpopular governor after ramming through right-to-work legislation and a new survey shows that Florida Governor Rick Scott will probably lose his re-election bid if he runs again in 2014. Just 36 percent of Florida voters approve of Scott's job performance, compared with 45 percent who disapprove, according to a poll from Quinnipiac. That spells trouble for Scott and the Florida GOP, especially with former Florida Governor Charlie Crist's recent conversion to the Democratic Party.

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