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Obama fires back as GOP threatens to derail gun control

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks on infrastructure investment at PortMiami in Florida March 29, 2013. (Photo by REUTERS)
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks on infrastructure investment at PortMiami in Florida March 29, 2013.

The Obama administration is ratcheting up the pressure on Congress to pass comprehensive gun control legislation as cracks in a bipartisan deal begin to emerge. The administration's hard line is an attempt to preemptively undermine GOP threats to filibuster any new legislation brought to the floor.

The new wave of pressure arrives in a critical moment of the gun control debate as Congress returns from a two-week recess to wrestle the two-headed juggernaut of gun-control and immigration reform.

The administration’s full-court press around gun control legislation--including the expansion of universal background checks--will see the president return to Connecticut Monday night, the site of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school where 20 young children and six educators were killed late last year. Obama will speak at the University of Hartford, just 50 miles north of Sandy Hook, and is expected to tout the need for “common-sense measures to reduce gun violence.”

He’ll likely echo much of what he has said in the wake of the massacre, that the victims of such violence “deserve a vote” on new gun control legislation and that, "I'll use whatever power this office holds... in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can't accept events like this as routine.”

The president is scheduled to meet with families of Sandy Hook victims and to travel with 11 of the families back to Washington with him on Air Force One, where they will meet with lawmakers and offer their pleas for stricter gun laws in the wake of their collective tragedy.

Key surrogates for the administration, including first lady Michelle Obama, are also hitting the speaking circuit to advance the president's agenda on gun control.

Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder will host a pro-gun control event at the White House Tuesday, ahead of Michelle Obama’s trip back to her hometown of Chicago on Wednesday to discuss, from a mother’s perspective, the rising tide of gun violence there.

“Now that the cameras are off and they are not forced to look the Newtown families in the face, now they want to make it harder and filibuster it,” Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to the president, said on the ABC’s This Week on Sunday. “We can’t have it. If we have a simple up-or-down vote, we can get this done.”

“This is a 90 percent issue; you can’t get 90 percent of Americans to agree on the weather,” Pfeiffer said in reference to public support for background check. If the new gun control measures fail, Pfeiffer added, “it’s going to be disappointing to the American people; there is no, absolutely no, question about that. They feel very strongly about this.”

Just days after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced a package of stricter new gun laws, which included a provision on universal background checks on all gun purchases, a triumvirate of Senate Republicans vowed to filibuster. The provision on universal background checks have become a key sticking point for Republicans and pro-gun groups, who fear the measures could be the first step toward a federal database of gun owners (currently barred under federal law).

The legislation has since become slogged down in the Senate where 13 Republicans have signaled that they will demand 60 votes in order to move forward. (Democrats would need 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster, meaning Obama would need to secure votes from all 55 Democrats and an additional five Republicans.) Getting unanimity among the Democrats could prove difficult given that several Democrats in conservative states have expressed doubts over the legislation and are unlikely to vote against their gun-loving constituencies.

Sen. Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, who appeared alongside Republican Sen. John McCain on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, said that if brought to the floor for debate, he believed there might be “a sweet spot” and that “background checks can succeed.”

“We're working hard,” Schumer said. [A bipartisan group of senators] “have a few ideas that might modify the proposal that we put in there. As long as they don't impair the effectiveness, I'm entertaining those, and, hopefully, people will rise to the occasion.”

A sweet spot could mean walking back a bit on some aspect of universal background checks, which might be more amenable to Democrats than ditching the record-keeping provisions, which gives police the ability to track a gun used in a crime to whomever purchased it.

Still, consensus on either side seems nil at the moment. Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, told The New York Times that if a breakthrough in negotiations cannot be reached soon, “I think we’re going to have to call the Republicans’ bluff.”

More on the president's emotional plea to urge Congress to vote, and a bereaved Newtown father asks, Do you actually believe this could never happen to you?