It may be Spring Break for some, but the Obama administration didn’t get the memo. The agenda over the past couple of days has filled with a number of hard-hitting policy items from gun control and immigration reform to abortion and African development.
Today at the White House, less than 100 days since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, President Obama played host to a number of stakeholders in the debate over gun control. Flanked by mothers whose lives have been touched by gun violence, the president made a passionate plea for Congress to push past bipartisan rancor and gridlock, to reinstate the ban on assault weapons and expand criminal background checks for those seeking gun permits.
The president made the case that such measures are not only common sense, they have widespread appeal.
“None of these ideas should be controversial. Why wouldn’t we want to make it more difficult for a dangerous person to get his or her hand on a gun?” President Obama said. “Right now, 90 percent of Americans — 90 percent — support background checks that will keep criminals and people who have been found to be a danger to themselves or others from buying a gun. More than 80 percent of Republicans agree.”
President Obama joked that people would be hard-pressed to find anything on which 90 percent of Americans would agree. And he asked them to put direct pressure on Congress to act on their behalf.
“I ask every American to find out where your member of Congress stands on these ideas. If they're not part of that 90 percent who agrees that we should make it harder for a criminal or somebody with a severe mental illness to buy a gun, then you should ask them, why not? Why are you part of the 10 percent?" President Obama said.
There has also been increased attention on immigration reform in recent days. On Thursday, the president agreed to two sit-down interviews with Spanish-language television to make the case for making good on what many believe has been a troubled campaign promise. Pressed by reporters at the White House, Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest answered questions about why now is the right moment for the president to put the focus on immigration reform.
“It’s the president’s view that we need to make sure that everybody is playing by the same set of rules," Earnest said. "And by reforming our broken immigration system in a comprehensive way, we can accomplish those two goals."
And while Arizona Senator John McCain expressed concern about whether an agreement on reform can be made, the White House appears confident that change is within reach perhaps within the next few weeks. Earnest assured, “We’re actually encouraged by the progress that’s being made by the bipartisan group of senators who have been working on this for a number of months now. Senator Schumer said just on Sunday that he was optimistic that they’d be able to file a piece of legislation when they got back from the Easter recess.”
Reporters also asked about the state of North Dakota and its plan to sign a law banning most abortions. While the White House says it's largely a state matter, they are closely monitoring the situation.
"The president’s view on this is pretty clear. He certainly is opposed to measures like that. He believes in protecting a woman’s right to choose. But in terms of if there is a legal process forthcoming, that’s something that will wind its way through the process and not something that we’ll — at least initially — be involved in," Earnest said.
Today, President Obama also met with four leaders from Africa: President Sall from Senegal, President Banda from Malawi, President Koroma from Sierra Leone and Prime Minister Neves from Cape Verde. The African leaders are in the United States to discuss the development of democracy as these nations strive for greater economic progress.
But the well-being of one of Africa's greatest leaders was on the minds of those gathered at the White House. President Obama made a statement about former South African President Nelson Mandela, who has been hospitalized after a recurring infection.
"He’s a hero I think to all of us. I’m sure that I speak for the other leaders here. And we will be keeping him in our thoughts and prayers, and his entire family," Obama said. "He is as strong physically as he’s been in character and in leadership over so many decades, and hopefully he will come out of this latest challenge."
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(Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)