Why Joe Biden is talking about guns

June 18, 2013

Vice President Biden will deliver remarks about guns Tuesday afternoon, an issue that was shelved in the Senate in April after advocates of tighter restrictions suffered a major setback when their proposed measures failed to win passage.

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(Andrew Harrer/BLOOMBERG)

So why is Biden delivering remarks about something that isn't currently even on the legislative calendar? Here are four reasons that taken together could explain it:

1. He genuinely cares about the issue: "I personally haven’t given up, nor has the president," Biden told reporters last week. Coming from a pol who's been accused of speaking too openly throughout his career, it sounded like Biden genuinely believes a debate over guns can be revived on Capitol Hill, even as Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has given no firm timetable on the matter. Biden led the Obama administration's task force on guns in the wake of the deadly mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., school late last year. And he offered an emotional plea during the lead up to the Senate votes. This is an issue the vice president is clearly invested in, and he hasn't thrown in the towel.

2. The White House needs to show it is doing something: In his remarks, Biden will provide a status update on the new gun control measures President Obama enacted earlier this year via executive fiat. The actions were modest compared to what can be accomplished by passing laws in Congress, and the progress report Biden will unveil makes a renewed a call for lawmakers to act. With the debate stalled on Capitol Hill, demonstrating that it is keeping up efforts on gun control is more challenging for the White House. By reminding the public about the actions Obama has taken, Biden will communicating that neither he nor the president have forgotten about the issue. But the limited reach of the executive orders will also remind gun control advocates about the tall task before them.

3. The Democratic base is watching: The issue of guns is hugely important to the Democratic base. And that matters, especially considering that Biden is by all accounts weighing a run for president in 2016. Regardless of whether tighter gun laws -- most notably expanded background checks -- are passed by Congress during Obama's presidency, if Biden is seen as the guy who never gave up on a topic that moves the Democratic base, it would only help his chances heading into a primary campaign.

4. Biden knows how to make a deal: If gun control is taken up again in this Congress -- something that seems like a long-shot but could happen -- and Biden continues to stay after the issue, it would 1) Boost his reputation as a Capitol Hill gridlock-breaker with an ability to resurrect legislative debates that looked like they weren't going anywhere. And 2) Behoove the administration to have him in the mix during the renewed negotiations. Remember, it was Biden who hashed out an 11th hour deal to avert the "fiscal cliff" with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) late last year after other talks had fallen flat.

Obama defends surveillance efforts: In an interview with PBS host Charlie Rose conducted Sunday and broadcast Monday night, President Obama defended the government's sweeping surveillance efforts under his watch and sought to distinguish his administration from the last one.

"The whole point of my concern, before I was president -- because some people say, ‘Well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before. Now he’s, you know, Dick Cheney.’ Dick Cheney sometimes says, ‘Yeah, you know? He took it all lock, stock and barrel,’ ” Obama said, according to a transcript provided by PBS. “My concern has always been not that we shouldn’t do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather are we setting up a system of checks and balances?”

For the nine most important quotes from the 45-minute interview, click here.

Fixbits:

The final Massachusetts Senate debate is Tuesday night. Meanwhile, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) will release a new ad hitting Republican Gabriel Gomez on abortion and guns.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said that he will file an immigration bill amendment that would allow states to require identification for voter registration.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said it would be a "big mistake" to chase 70+ votes on the immigration reform bill.

News polls show Americans are against arming the Syrian rebels, even after Obama's "red line" was crossed.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) wants "multiple" debates against Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) and other Democratic Senate contenders. Meanwhile, a Democratic effort is underway to move the gubernatorial election from November to coincide with the Senate special election in October.

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said he's more a "Rockefeller Republican" than a "Pelosi Democrat."

Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) has his first Republican challenger.

Must-reads: 

"Obama and Putin fail to resolve differences over Syria" -- Scott Wilson, Washington Post

"Supreme Court says states may not add citizenship proof for voter registration" -- Robert Barnes, Washington Post

"G.O.P. Pushes New Abortion Limits to Appease Vocal Base" -- Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan · June 17, 2013