President Obama called on Congress on Tuesday to revisit gun control legislation, saying in the wake of Monday's deadly mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard that lawmakers should take what he considers "basic actions" to toughen the nation's gun laws.
In an interview with the Spanish-language television network Telemundo, Obama said the country's background check system for gun buyers is so weak it makes the United States vulnerable to mass shootings, such as the one last December that killed 26 small children at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting propelled gun safety to the top of Obama's second-term legislative agenda, but Senate Republicans as well as some Democrats in April blocked a proposal to expand background checks.
"You have a majority of the American people and even a large percentage of Republicans who are ready to move the country forward, and yet we keep on getting blocked," Obama said. "It's a challenge that I'm speaking out on, but ultimately we're also gonna meet pressure from the public to see if we can change how they do business up there."
Obama's interview with Telemundo was wide-ranging, touching on the situation in Syria regarding that country's stockpile of chemical weapons and diplomatic communications with Iran, as well as immigration reform stalled in Congress and the implementation of Obama's signature health-care law.
Obama said he is encouraged by letters he has exchanged with Iran's new leader, President Hasan Rouhani, saying he told Rouhani the United States wants to resolve the nuclear issue in a way that would allow Iran to rejoin the international community.
"Iran is under a whole host of international sanctions precisely because the entire international community believes that we can't see a nuclear arms race triggered in the most volatile part of the world," Obama told Telemundo. "And there is an opportunity here for diplomacy. I hope the Iranians take advantage of it. There are indications that Rouhani, the new president, is somebody who is looking to open dialogue with the West and with the United States in a way that we haven't seen in the past. And so we should test it."
On immigration, Obama ruled out using executive authority to freeze deportations for most of the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, saying such a move would violate federal law.
With a comprehensive immigration reform bill stalled on Capitol Hill, advocates have called on the president to move forward without congressional approval to halt the deportations, estimated at more than 1,000 a day.
But Obama told Telemundo that such a move is “not an option." Doing so, he said, “would be ignoring the law in a way that would be very difficult to defend legally.”
The president’s decision is likely to disappoint advocates, who are beginning to lose hope of sweeping immigration legislation advancing out of Congress.
Obama challenged House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to bring the Senate’s comprehensive immigration plan to the floor for a vote, predicting that it would pass with bipartisan support even if the majority of the GOP caucus voted against the bill.
“He shouldn’t be afraid of majority opinion on this thing,” Obama said. “If in fact the overwhelming majority of the American people think we need to do something on immigration — we’ve got a bipartisan bill — why not go ahead and let it come to the floor of the House and let’s see what happens?”
David Nakamura contributed to this report.