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With Nation's Eyes On Newtown, Washington Distracted By Fiscal Cliff

President Obama, with Vice President Biden at his side on Wednesday, at a news conference about gun violence that became dominated by questions of the fiscal cliff.
Mandel Ngan
AFP/Getty Images
President Obama, with Vice President Biden at his side on Wednesday, at a news conference about gun violence that became dominated by questions of the fiscal cliff.

Anyone hoping that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre might change dynamics in the nation's capital when it comes to the issue of guns met some level of Washington reality on Wednesday.

President Obama held a news conference to announce his response to the Connecticut killings of 26 grade-schoolers and educators, including his naming of Vice President Joe Biden to head a team that will recommend in a month actions that might help prevent future Sandy Hooks.

But when Obama began taking questions, the White House press corps didn't ask about gun violence. Instead, journalists focused on fiscal cliff negotiations. And the president accommodated them with the kind of lengthy, discursive answers he is famous for, which cause many a listener's mind to wander (and perhaps on Wednesday, wonder if the session would end before someone could follow up with a gun violence question).

This did not go unnoticed by some in the mainstream media and others on social media.

Journalists eventually did get around to asking the president follow-up questions about his gun announcement, including ABC News' Jake Tapper, who asked the president a question that has been on many minds, namely, " Where have you been" the past four years on the issue of gun violence?

To which the president essentially said he was busy on other matters, like rescuing the U.S. economy.

Obama's news conference was followed by an appearance by House Speaker John Boehner, advertised by his office as a "media availability." As it turned out, the speaker wasn't all that available.

He stood before the mics and cameras for all of 51 seconds to chide the president for allegedly being unserious in the fiscal cliff negotiations, then disappeared back into his office. Reporters didn't have a chance to ask him about guns.

A group of House Democrats, meanwhile, held a news conference to call on the Republicans who control the House to schedule a vote by Saturday on legislation by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York and Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado that would ban the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines.

But there are no signs that a vote will be scheduled for the legislation — which was drafted months before the Newtown massacre.

In a sign of just how little the prevailing partisan atmosphere has been changed by the Newtown tragedy, DeGette said that since House members returned to work Monday, "in just over 24 hours we've picked up 21 co-sponsors, and we believe we'll have even more by the end of today.

"Sadly, none of those co-sponsors are Republicans, and we have approached many of our Republican friends and colleagues. Some of them say they're thinking about it," said DeGette. "And we hope they think hard about it."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.
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