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Wake Up To Politics - May 27, 2022

Wake Up To Politics: Inside the briefing room after Uvalde
Wake Up To Politics - May 27, 2022

by Gabe Fleisher

Good morning! It’s Friday, May 27, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 165 days away. Election Day 2024 is 893 days away.

A quick housekeeping note before diving into today’s news: There will be no newsletter on Monday, in honor of Memorial Day. I hope you all have a great weekend, and I will see you on Tuesday.

How Washington is responding to Uvalde

For the past few days, the biggest story here in Washington — and across the country — has been the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and two teachers were tragically killed.

I’ve been covering the story since it happened, of course, but now that the week is coming to a close, I thought it was a good time to take a step back and assess how both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are responding to the attack — with an eye on the possible policy changes that could emerge.

Here’s what you need to know about Washington’s response to Uvalde:

At the White House

I was at the White House for press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre’s briefing on Thursday, her first since the Uvalde shooting. With the flag atop the White House still waving at half-staff, the attack’s long shadow dominated the session.

“These were elementary school kids,” Jean-Pierre said in an emotional message to open the briefing, before taking questions. “They should be losing their first teeth, not losing their lives... These parents should be planning their kid’s summer, not their child’s funeral.”

Jean-Pierre also announced that President and First Lady Biden will be traveling to Uvalde on Sunday. Beyond that, though, she had little to share on Biden’s response to the shooting — beyond broadcasting his outrage and his hope that Congress would do something.

Reporters repeatedly lobbed questions at her about potential executive actions he could take. Would Biden appoint a gun control “czar” to coordinate the administration’s response? Would he convene an inter-agency task force? Would he be meeting with gun control advocates?

“I don’t have anything to preview or read out for you,” Jean-Pierre would only say.

When asked again and again if Biden would play a role in the legislative discussions on gun control and sit down with lawmakers himself, as he has on issues like infrastructure, Jean-Pierre said no less than five times that the White House is leaving the “mechanics” to Congress.

There is little Biden can do unilaterally, of course, but it was clear that the White House did not even want to associate him with the congressional talks, perhaps hesitant to make Biden the face of yet another legislative failure if things go south.

On this issue, which Biden has long worked on and which has now captivated the attention of the nation he leads, Jean-Pierre seemed to be saying: “Don’t look at us.”

To me, the most interesting exchange of the briefing was when Jean-Pierre pointed out those years of experience Biden has on gun control. “But isn’t that more of an indictment than it is a plus,” Michael Shear of the New York Times interjected to ask, “to say that the current president has been involved in this...for decades and it’s not being fixed?”

“Look, Michael, we are frustrated as well,” Jean-Pierre responded, without offering any new policy announcements to add to those emotions. “This is why we’re calling on Congress to act,” she said once again.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre parries reporters’ questions on Thursday. (Gabe Fleisher / Wake Up To Politics)

On Capitol Hill

So is Congress going to act? Well, the Senate left on Thursday for a two-week recess, joining the House. But before lawmakers headed home, there were signs of movement on a possible bipartisan gun control deal.

In a notable step, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — who often doesn’t weigh in on this type of bipartisan dealmaking — told CNN that he had directed members of his caucus to work with top Democrats to find a compromise.

“I am hopeful that we could come up with a bipartisan solution,” McConnell said.

Already, a bipartisan group of nine senators met for lunch on Thursday to begin discussions, which included Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (WV) and Chris Murphy (CT) and Republican Sens. Susan Collins (ME) and Lindsey Graham (SC), among others.

The group is keeping its ambitions narrow, focusing on expanding background checks for gun buyers and incentivizing states to implement “red flag” laws, which allow family members and law enforcement to petition judges to prevent people they believe are dangerous from buying a firearm.

It is far from guaranteed that their talks will come to fruition, of course, but the discussions represent the most serious bipartisan gun control efforts in years. “It feels different right now,” Manchin told reporters.

Still, gun control advocates were dealt a disappointment on Thursday when Senate Republicans blocked the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act from advancing. The bill would increase government efforts to monitor and prosecute domestic terrorists.

On its own, supporters say, the measure would help prevent mass shootings such as the supermarket attack targeting a Black community in Buffalo last week. But Democrats had also hoped, if Republicans voted to begin debate on it, the measure could be used as a vehicle for gun control amendments.

“We missed that chance today, but it’s not the end,” Murphy said in a statement.

Gun control activists protest outside the Capitol on Thursday. (Lauren Gambino / Twitter)

What else you should know

  • If Congress doesn’t act, the biggest post-Uvalde policy change on guns could actually come from the Supreme Court, which is set to rule on a key guns case soon. And it would likely be towards loosening gun laws, not tightening them. Here’s more from the Washington Post.
  • As community members share accounts of police officers outside the school waiting to rush in, scrutiny is rising of the law enforcement response to the Uvalde attack. And official have offered several conflicting explanations, only fueling more confusion. Here’s more from the Associated Press.
  • The National Rifle Association (NRA) is still set to kick off its annual convention in Houston today, just a few hours from Uvalde. Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) announced this morning that he will offer pre-recorded remarks instead of  addressing the conference in-person as planned. Former president Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and other top figures will still appear. Here’s more from the New York Times.

What’s going on in Washington today

All times Eastern

President Biden will travel to Annapolis, Maryland to deliver remarks at the United States Naval Academy’s Class of 2022 commencement ceremony (10 am). After the ceremony, he’ll travel to Delaware, where he’ll spend the night.

Vice President Harris has nothing on her public schedule.

The Senate is out until June 6. The chamber will convene briefly for a pro forma session (9:30 am), during which no legislative business will be conducted and few members will attend.

The House is out until June 7. The chamber will also hold a brief pro forma session (9 am).

The Supreme Court will meet for its weekly conference to discuss pending petitions and cases.

Links to watch for yourself: Biden commencement speechSenate pro formaHouse pro forma

That’s it for today. If you enjoy Wake Up To Politics, it’s always appreciated if you donate to support the newsletter or buy some merch. Or if you tell your friends and family to sign up at wakeuptopolitics.com.

If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to email me: my inbox is always open.

Thanks for waking up to politics! Have a great day.

— Gabe