Already, there are warning signs about the hurdles Obama’s agenda may face on Capitol Hill. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said it would be exceedingly difficult to pass an assault-weapons ban, which appears to be the most polarizing of Obama’s proposals.
“Let’s be realistic,” Reid told a Nevada PBS affiliate last week. “In the Senate, we’re going to do what we think can get through the House, and I’m not going to go through a bunch of these gyrations just to say we’ve done something.”
House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) echoed that calculation on Tuesday by acknowledging the difficulties that gun-control legislation would face in the Republican-led House.
“That’s been the case based on past history,” Hoyer told reporters.
More than half of all Americans say the Newtown shootings have made them more supportive of gun control, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Monday. An assault-weapons ban has the support of 58 percent of Americans, the poll shows.
In New York on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) signed into law what he called the most comprehensive package of state gun measures in the nation. The centerpiece is an expanded ban on assault weapons that would prohibit semiautomatic pistols and rifles as well as ammunition clips holding more than seven rounds.
Congress will take up the federal proposals next week — first in the Democratic-controlled Senate and then the House.
Gun control will be only one point of friction between the White House and the Capitol. Policy fights loom over raising the nation’s debt ceiling as well as overhauling immigration laws.
Obama’s gun control proposals are sure to face stiff opposition from the National Rifle Association, which released a video Tuesday on its Web site calling Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for having the Secret Service protect his daughters at school while voicing skepticism about an NRA effort to place armed guards in all schools.
Even some of the administration’s allies on Capitol Hill, including some rural Democrats, have criticized parts of Obama’s agenda.
“An assault-weapons stand-alone ban on just guns alone, in the political reality we have, will not go anywhere,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Sunday on CNN.
Lawmakers who have been part of Biden’s discussions said the White House is well aware of the political difficulty it faces in advancing this agenda.
“I think there’s a commitment to do the big things,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.). “I also think that they’re realists, and in addition to doing the big things, they want to make sure that they do as many of the effective things that we can find some level of consensus on.”
Consensus appears more possible around universal background checks and a ban on magazines capable of carrying more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) said she has spoken discreetly with several Republican lawmakers who may be open to backing a ban on high-capacity clips. “What I said to them is, ‘Do your own press conference. Come out as a group. There’s power in numbers,’ ” she said.
Some gun-control advocates say universal background checks could do more to stem gun violence than an assault-weapons ban because they would keep more firearms — including handguns used in most shootings — out of the hands of criminals or those with mental illnesses.
Matt Bennett, a senior vice president at Third Way, a centrist think tank consulted by Biden’s task force, said of the assault-weapons ban: “We support it, but we don’t think it will be easy to do. And we’re not sure that it is worth the expenditure of a tremendous amount of political capital to get.”
The long-dormant debate over gun laws was revived in December after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown.
Obama and his allies plan to pressure Congress from the outside, just as they did in the recent “fiscal cliff” negotiations that resulted in tax increases for the wealthiest Americans.
“The president can play a vital role in rallying the public support that already exists,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “It’s not a question of muscling anything through. It’s a question of changing the political calculus on this issue.”
Ed O’Keefe, Rosalind S. Helderman, Sari Horwitz and Peter Wallsten contributed to this report.