By SARAH KOLINOVSKY, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — For the second time in just a week, President Joe Biden will need to address a mass shooting while traveling to promote his COVID relief plan, tempering his triumphant tone in the wake of tragedy.
Biden is set to visit Columbus, Ohio, to mark the 11th anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act, and explain to Americans how his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan lowers health care costs and increases access for many.
The White House said late Monday morning that he would address the latest shooting in Boulder, Colorado, as he leaves for Ohio — his first comments since it happened — and has directed that all flags at the White House be flown at half-staff.
Biden’s trip to Ohio is part of his “Help Is Here” tour, that was meant to tout his first major legislative achievement, one that consumed the first two months of his administration, with his team laser-focused on getting this big win over the finish line. The tour was intended to last two weeks, with the president, vice president, first lady, and second gentleman blitzing the country on a wave of good news, from increasing vaccine availability to $1400 deposits in bank accounts.
But after eight people were gunned down in Atlanta on March 16, and another 10 in Boulder Monday, with a full-blown crisis ongoing at the border, the tour is becoming overshadowed by other issues the White House will be forced to confront.
Last Friday, Biden was scheduled to head to Atlanta to hold a drive-in political rally to thank Georgians for electing the two senators who gave him the majority to pass his $1.9 trillion law. But in the wake of the Atlanta shooting that sparked a nationwide outcry against anti-Asian sentiment, Biden pivoted, instead holding a closed-door meeting with local AAPI leaders, and adopting a somber tone for his remarks.
“As many of you know, we originally planned to hold a car rally to thank our supporters. But given the recent days –events of recent days, we didn’t feel it was appropriate, so we canceled that rally,” Biden said in Atlanta, continuing to urge Americans to reject racism and violence.
Biden pledged both as a candidate and in the early days of his presidency to prioritize gun control.
“This Administration will not wait for the next mass shooting to heed that call. We will take action to end our epidemic of gun violence and make our schools and communities safer,” Biden said in a statement in February, marking the anniversary of the Parkland shooting. “Today, I am calling on Congress to enact commonsense gun law reforms, including requiring background checks on all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers who knowingly put weapons of war on our streets.”
On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to close the so-called Charleston loophole, which allows a consumer to purchase a gun without the results of a background check if the check takes more than three days, and promised to pursue measures that would keep guns away from people who could pose a danger to themselves or others.
Biden has a long record on gun control. He helped shepherd the 1993 Brady Bill, which first established the background check and waiting period requirements, through Congress. The 1994 crime bill Biden wrote included a 10-year ban on assault weapons.
“I’ve taken on the NRA and beaten them — twice. And I’ll do it again as president because everyone should need to pass a background check to buy a gun,” Biden tweeted during the campaign.
But his administration has not prioritized gun reform in its agenda, instead pushing for COVID-19 relief, and next, a major infrastructure and economic bill. Immigration reform is also on the minds of many lawmakers as a surge in migrants crossing the southern U.S. border continues to intensify.
After speaking in Atlanta Friday, Biden ignored a question on whether he would prioritize gun control in light of the shooting. Vice President Kamala Harris ignored a similar question Tuesday morning.
“It’s tragic. It’s absolutely tragic. It’s tragic,” Harris said, shrugging, at a loss for words. “It’s 10 people going about their day, living their lives, not bothering anybody. A police officer who was performing his duties, and with great courage and heroism, seven children, I understand, it’s tragic. It’s tragic.”
But as she finished her thought, she turned and walked away from reporters, not answering a follow-up question on whether gun control should be the administration’s next priority.
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