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New York Pols React to Obama's Speech: 'Disappointed,' 'Missed a Chance'

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

WNYC

President Obama's speech was a call to arms for those seeking bipartisanship. Unfortunately, those looking for regulations of firearms heard not a word about their cause.

"What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow," Obama said to an audience of Washington lawmakers which, for the first time, had Democrats and Republicans seated next to one another.

"We share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled," said the president, referring to the youngest victim of the massacre that left Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords with a gunshot wound to the head.

But after that, Obama did not address the issue of gun control, something Mayor Michael Bloomberg strenuously advocated for with a major media push leading up to the speech.

Afterwards, Bloomberg released a statement calling the omission of gun control from the speech "disappointing."

Considering the effort Bloomberg put into forcing the issue onto the president's radar, that appears to be an understatement.

Leading up to Obama's third State of the Union speech, Bloomberg hosted 34 people who lost family members to gun violence — one for each person who, on average, are killed in America every day by guns. Among those represented were victims of the Virginia Tech shooting, the recent Tuscon shooting, and even Martin Luther King III, son of the slain civil rights leader.

At the event, Bloomberg said the nation needed someone with "courage" to address the issue.

Later that same day, Bloomberg appeared on CBS with Katie Couric — along with King — to further press his case.

The day of the speech, the coalition Bloomberg founded to combat "illegal guns" published an open letter to the president in the Washington Post. Hours before the speech, Bloomberg's office announced he would be joined at City Hall on Wednesday by "Gifford's hero intern" who "cared for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot."

Democratic Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of Long Island said, "I'm disappointed that President Obama did not urge us to look at our nation's gun laws."

McCarthy — a gun control advocate spurred to action after her husband was gunned down on the Long Island Railroad — added, "I look forward to continuing that path and hearing from our president in the future."

Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner also thought that the Arizona tragedy provided Obama a moment to lean into what has normally been a difficult issue.

"In a speech that seemed to strive for common ground, he missed a chance for common sense on guns," Weiner said.

In Tucson, the alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, had been denied entry into the military, citing his mental health. That information could have kept him from legally purchasing a handgun, but it was not shared with other authorities. Also, Loughner's use of a 30-bullet magazine clip which had up until recently been banned is another restriction advocates want to see restored.

But in a speech designed to break the partisan logjam in Washington, others thought ducking the controversial issue was understandable. As one viewer wrote on Twitter, "nothing brings consensus to a divided nation like arguing about the Second Amendment."

For his part, Senator Charles Schumer praised Obama's speech for focusing on bipartisanship and rebuilding the economy. He did not mention gun control, but immediately after the shooting in Tucson, he explained why it wasn't a priority for more people.

"One of the reasons there's less impetus for gun control is the success we had in the '90s," said Schumer, who authored the Brady Bill, requiring background checks for prospective gun buyers.

The speech came at a time when Obama's opponents in the Republican Party rode a wave of taxpayer frustration to take back control of the House of Representatives after just one term out of power.

Heading into his reelection two years from now with a divided Congress, Obama sought to embrace the call to reduce the cost of government, while not alienating the progressive Democrats who are the core of his base.

He called for eliminating the "billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies" and for letting the Bush tax cuts expire.

"[W]e simply cannot afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent," and "we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break," Obama said.

Taxing high-income earners has long been something Bloomberg has resisted here in New York City. It is also something New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is trying to prevent state lawmakers from enacting in Albany.

While much of the speech appeared to echo the fiscally conservative message Cuomo delivered in Albany earlier this month, there were highlights in Obama's speech that Bloomberg said he was glad to see.

Among them was a call to address the country's illegal immigration problem "once and for all" by protecting "our borders" but also, tellingly, "address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows."

"Lets stop expelling talented, responsible young people," said Obama, echoing the call for allowing more foreign students to stay in the country longer made by Bloobmerg and News Corp founder Rupert Murdoch.

Azi Paybarah is the author of The Empire, a blog that covers New York state politics and governance.

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Comments [4]

Nick from Area 51

It would be enlightening to ask callers / commentators, before they make a comment or offer an opinion, where they get news. The typical Fox viewer will have a completely different take on any Obama issue - generally, I see them as "low information" people. People who (gosh!) read a paper (even virtually on their computer or tablet device) generally are better informed and more clearly focused on the issues. People who watch CNN and MSNBC are probably a little less informed on the issues than someone who reads a decent (e.g., NY Times, WSJ, Washington Post) newspaper but are much better informed than the local-news-only TV viewers and way ahead of the Fox viewers.

As for the state of the union, Mr. Obama had to deliver a positive message and set the direction for his next 2 years. I think he did a decent job given the difficult atmosphere in DC. The right, alas. still only knows how to say no - they proved that clearly once again in their two speeches last night. But the mark of real leadership is taking difficult stands, setting important goals and challenging the nation to live up to our potential. Just saying no is no way to build anything.

Jan. 26 2011 11:11 AM
Brian Wade

I really liked the state of the union speech last night - I am a believer in President Obama. My issue is the ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY we hear in statements made by many of the president's critics. Not even our best economists speak with such a high degree of certainty which lets me know that these critics are just looking for their preferred (negative) view of the president's approach to fixing our economy. The same ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY was used by many conservatives following congresswoman Gifford's shooting in stating with God-like certainty that their hateful rhetoric had absolutely nothing to do with the event. The only absolute certainty that I believe in is that ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY is always an indicator of the absolute bias of a closed minded idealogue. I believe that it is intellectual humility and uncertainty that helps us to discuss and explore issues intelligently. Uncertainty is often our only common ground.

Jan. 26 2011 10:58 AM
David from Queens

Why do only conservative nitwits like Carol end up on the air?

Jan. 26 2011 10:40 AM
Bison from Seattle, Wa

Please in the future refrain from using the terminology "clip" when writing about a "magazine". A clip is very different from a magazine by definition, and there is no such thing as a "magazine clip". Also, the part of the 1994 crime bill which came to be known as the assault weapons bill, expired in 2004 which was seven years ago (not "recently" as your article misleadingly states). Unfortunately for gun control activists, the president is unlikely to support major gun law reform even if it does land on his desk. People should not forget that in 2009 12 billion rounds of ammunition were sold in the US, which is 12 times the amount of ammo used by the US army in Europe from D-day to VE-day (not including the air forces or navy). In this country, people vote mostly with their dollars, and if dollars say anything then they say that most Americans don't want their privileges to own firearms restricted. Obama has learned a lot in just a couple of years, and he is increasingly having to worry about poll numbers as the 2012 elections creep ever closer.

Jan. 26 2011 02:15 AM

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