President Biden will visit Buffalo on Tuesday seeking to console a grieving community reeling from a mass shooting over the weekend that police say was racially motivated.
The president will reprise the role of consoler-in-chief, a hat he’s worn plenty of times during his tenure as the country has battled the COVID-19 pandemic amid several other tragedies.
But any offer Biden has in the way of a robust policy response to either the proliferation of firearms or the spread of hate speech and white supremacist ideology remains to be seen after a gunman opened fire on customers at a grocery store, killing 10 people and wounding three, most of them Black.
A White House official said Biden is expected to condemn the shooting as an act of domestic terrorism and push for congressional action on gun control.
But past efforts to enact gun control legislation have repeatedly failed on Capitol Hill for years, no matter the degree of death from regular mass shootings around the country, and there’s no sign the latest massacre will make a difference in that regard.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has regularly broken with Democrats to block gun control bills, said late Monday that he would support a measure he’s sponsored with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that would expand background checks but ultimately admitted its stall in Congress in the nearly one decade since the Sandy Hook school shooting.
“We can’t even get Manchin-Toomey, which didn’t violate anyone’s rights. It just said there should not be a commercial transaction unless there’s a background check,” Manchin said. “It’s the most, I think it’s the most agreed upon, it’s the most accepted in the country, and we can’t even get that done.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, in response to a question about whether Biden would push for any specific gun legislation in light of the Buffalo mass shooting, suggested Monday that the president’s main goal on the trip would be to meet with those affected by Saturday’s events.
“He wants to go there and comfort the people who went through this violence on Saturday and wanted to offer some comfort and listen to them, talk to them, see how they’re doing,” Jean-Pierre said.
Biden is scheduled to meet with families of the victims, community leaders and first responders while on the ground in western New York.
The White House official said the president “will call this despicable act for what it is: terrorism motivated by a hateful and perverse ideology that tears at the soul of our nation. He’ll call on all Americans to give hate no safe harbor, and to reject the lies of racial animus that radicalize, divide us, and led to the act of racist violence we saw on Saturday that took the lives of 10 of our countrymen,” the official said.
“President Biden will call on Congress to take action to keep weapons of war off our streets and keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people who have a serious mental illness that makes them a danger to themselves or others,” the official said.
Biden on Sunday gave a forceful speech in which he called hate “a stain on the soul of America.” Local and federal authorities are investigating the shooting as a racially motivated hate crime.
Biden has repeatedly called on Congress to ban assault-style weapons and pass background check legislation in the wake of other mass shootings, such as the Atlanta spa incident last year.
But those calls have gone unanswered as other priorities have piled up at the White House and on Capitol Hill.
The legislative filibuster, a 60-vote threshold, also prevents Democrats from passing most pieces of legislation through the Senate if they do not have support from 10 Republicans.
Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, criticized inaction on the part of the Senate to get any gun legislation through and encouraged Biden to use the latest shooting in Buffalo to call on Congress to do something.
“It’s important for Joe Biden to lay out that he is doing everything he can, but to save lives requires this be treated as a public health epidemic,” Brady said.
At the White House, Brown argued that the administration should tap an official to oversee gun violence issues. Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One Tuesday that she wasn’t sure if such an idea was being considered.
Other advocates are also calling on Biden to do more with his executive authority to root out white supremacy.
Luis Hernandez, executive director of Youth Over Guns, urged Biden to establish a committee to analyze the threat posed by white supremacy and bring with him to Buffalo concrete policy solutions for addressing hate crimes.
“The community needs commitment, real commitment about what he’s going to do, plans that he will implement, and things that he will work with the state and local government to make happen,” Hernandez said. “We can’t have him come in, give a policy message that three months in turn has led to no results, nothing tangible for the community.”
Since Saturday’s shooting, the White House and other administration officials have highlighted ongoing efforts to implement Biden’s strategy for combatting domestic terrorism, which was released last year in keeping with an executive order he signed his first day in office.
“The president is using every tool he can to fight gun violence,” Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday, adding that Biden has done more through executive action as president on guns than any other president in his first year.
Updated 9:43 a.m.