New York Pols React to Obama's Speech: 'Disappointed,' 'Missed a Chance'
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
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.