President Barack Obama speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House, in Washington May 31, 2013, where he called on Congress to keep federally subsidized student loans rates from doubling on July 1. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met Thursday with relatives of the victims of the Connecticut school shooting, who were visiting Washington on the eve of the six-month anniversary of the tragedy to push anew for gun control.
Legislation to expand background checks for gun buyers failed in the Senate in April, and there are no indications it has gained any traction over concerns about protecting gun rights. But some of the Sandy Hook victims' relatives have been making emotional pleas to lawmakers this week and appeared with supportive lawmakers at a Capitol news conference Thursday.
Twenty first-graders and six staffers were killed on Dec. 14 in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Some of the families of the victims have pushed Congress to toughen firearms laws, and Obama spokesman Jay Carney said that the White House commends their "courage and perseverance."
"We want them to know that, as we approach the six-month anniversary of that terrible day, we will never forget and we will continue to fight alongside them," Carney said.
The White House would provide no details, saying that was intended to protect the families' privacy. But Obama made clear later that he will pursue his gun-safety efforts.
"I'm not giving up the fight to keep our kids safe from gun violence," Obama said during remarks at a White House celebration of LGBT Pride Month.
Biden plans to hold a gun control event at the White House on Tuesday, although his office won't discuss any details. Last week, Biden sent an email to Democrats saying he has complete faith Congress will pass meaningful gun laws if everything is done to make it happen and declared, "This fight is far from over."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday that he would not accept watered-down background checks as the price for pushing new legislation through his chamber. Reid, speaking at the news conference with the families, did not specify what parts of the legislation he would refuse to weaken or remove, or when a fresh vote on the issue might occur.
Gun control supporters have worried that to declare victory, Democrats might remove required record-keeping of gun sales from the measure — which advocates say would render the legislation toothless.
"The bill that passes the Senate must include background checks and not a watered-down version of background checks," Reid said. "We're not going to let the forces of an extreme minority water down and damage the contents" of the legislation.
Reid said talks aimed at finding the 60 votes the measure will need to prevail "have not borne much fruit yet," but predicted they will. Reid and other supporters must find at least five additional votes — which means they will need support from at least one more Republican — even though gun rights advocates have successfully fought against new laws.
The news conference was attended by relatives of two teachers killed at Sandy Hook — Lauren Rousseau and Victoria Soto. Parents of some of the children who died lobbied earlier in the week but had left Thursday for an appearance on ABC's "The View" and weren't in town for the meeting with the president.
"I don't care who you are — Republican, Democrat, black, white — nobody wants to get a text like the one I did on December 14" notifying of the shooting at the school, Nelba Marquez Greene, who lost her daughter, Ana, said on "The View." She said more than 4,000 other Americans have been killed by guns since then. "I mean come on, let's get it together so that we can pass something in Congress."
"If nothing changes, this will happen again," added Jacqueline Barden, mother of victim Daniel.
Reid also said he spoke to Michael Bloomberg this week about the New York City mayor's letter urging local donors to not contribute to Democratic senators who opposed the background check legislation. Four of them voted against the bill.
Reid said he told Bloomberg that "to have Republicans control the Senate is a sure sign we will never every get anything done."
Reid said that while he believes Bloomberg will consider his advice, "He's kind of a free spirit and a very rich one."