Apparently speaking without notes, President Obama stood in front of parents who lost children at Newtown and Gabby Giffords and furiously criticized the Senate and the NRA for a failure to break the Republican filibuster on background checks.
Introduced by a father who lost his child at Newtown (and who pledged "We are not defeated, and we will not be defeated"), Obama insisted that it was "a pretty shameful day for Washington." Even as the Senate continued to vote on — and not approve — amendments to the gun bill, the president lashed out at their failure to approve the Manchin-Toomey proposal to increase background checks for gun sales. That bipartisan compromise did little to upend a Republican-led filibuster on a 54-46 vote (details below), prompting a visitor in the gallery to cry out, "Shame on you!" (Here's more on the reaction from the other side.)
Sharing that opinion, Obama blasted the Senate vote. Noting that expanded background checks are supported by about 90 percent of Americans, he said:
A few minutes ago, 90 percent of Democrats in the Senate voted for that idea. But it's not going to happen. Because 90 percent of Republicans voted against it. … A majority of members voted yes … but by this continued distortion of Senate rules, a minority was able to block it from moving forward.
He didn't spare that minority. "The gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill," he insisted, by suggesting that the bill would lead to a national gun registry, "even though it did the opposite." Those lies served a purpose, he argued, upsetting "an intense minority of gun owners" who then demanded their Senators oppose the proposal.
Four Republicans defected from the rest of their party to support the Manchin-Toomey measure — Senators Collins (ME), Kirk (IL), McCain (AZ), and sponsor Toomey (PA). But four Democrats opposed it on principle — Senators Baucus (MT), Begich (AK), Heitkamp (ND), and Pryor (AR) — and those four are not popular with the president. "Fact is," he said, "most of these senators couldn't often any good reason" to oppose the bill. So, worried about re-election, they "started looking for an excuse — any excuse — to vote no." Obama asked that voters contact their elected officials and let them know they were disappointed — and to remember that disappointment at election time. Of that intense minority opposed to reform he said, "they're better organized, they're better financed, they've been at it longer, and they've made sure to stay focussed at election time."
With a somber Joe Biden at his side, Obama's final words were dedicated to the Newtown families that had spent weeks lobbying Capitol Hill for the measure. He praised their strength and insisted his administration would do what it could to curb gun violence. "Sooner or later," he said, "we're going to get this right." He will have another chance; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (who voted against the amendment for procedural reasons) announced that he would pull the gun package from the floor for consideration at a future time.
The president's fury was matched by the woman in the Senate gallery who yelled, "Shame on you!" immediately after the vote. According to reporters in the room, she was Patricia Maisch, one of the three bystanders who tackled Jared Loughner after he shot Rep. Gabby Giffords in January 2011.
"Shame on you!" shouts Tuscon survivor Patricia Maisch from balcony when the vote was lost.Outside chamber she said "They have no soul."— michael viqueira (@mikeviqueira) April 17, 2013
Patricia Maisch, Tucson survivor who yelled "Shame on you!" after Senate vote, tells reporters she's "embarrassed" for Jeff Flake— daveweigel (@daveweigel) April 17, 2013
The NRA was quick to announce its approval of the vote. "Today, the misguided Manchin-Toomey-Schumer proposal failed in the U.S. Senate," it wrote. "We are grateful for the hard work and leadership of those Senators who chose to pursue meaningful solutions to our nation’s most pressing problems."
Obama had an indirect response to this as well: "It begs the question: Who are we here to represent?"
How each Senator voted:
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.