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Update on Biden's remarks on the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: How many scores of little children who witnessed what happened - see their friends die as if they're on a battlefield, for God's sake.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

That was President Biden speaking within the past hour about the shooting today at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Eighteen children and two adults were killed. The 18-year-old gunman was also killed. Joining us now to discuss the president's remarks is NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Hi, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: All right. So as we just mentioned, the president spoke at the White House this evening. He has just gotten back from a trip to Asia. What stood out to you in his remarks today?

KEITH: He was very raw about the pain that the families and the children must be going through - that the children who witnessed this would be going through. He talked about parents not being able to tuck their kids in at night anymore or to have them jump into bed with them and cuddle. And then he turned to the politics. He turned to his argument that something needs to be done about guns in America. He says that, you know, other countries have mental health problems. Other countries have domestic disputes. But they don't have mass shootings with the frequency that they happen here in the United States. And he says, quote, "where in God's name is our backbone? Turn this pain into action."

CHANG: Right. Well, Tam, just to remind everybody, the president did have a very central role when he was vice president in the political response to the shooting in Sandy Hook. Can you just remind us, what did he do back then, and what has he done since then to try to address gun violence?

KEITH: Right. It's been almost a decade since those 20 children - 20 first-graders and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In the wake of that, the Biden administration led an effort. President Biden, then Vice President Biden, led that effort to find administrative actions that could be taken. And the - President Obama signed a bunch of executive orders. But executive orders just don't have the same force of law that laws have. And there was an effort - a bipartisan effort - to expand background checks. And it failed. It failed to get through the Senate.

Largely, it couldn't get past a Republican filibuster. But there were some Democrats that peeled off as well and only a few Republicans who ultimately supported that legislation. And since then, there has been no - there have been conversations, but there has been no strong effort to try to do something similar. One of the bill's authors, Joe Manchin from West Virginia, a Democrat, says that he still supports that bill. But he doesn't support throwing out the filibuster, which would be required to get an up or down vote.

CHANG: Exactly. So the president spoke to Governor Abbott this evening. And we know that this will reignite a conversation about gun control, or at least what happened today certainly will. But what - do you see that conversation at all changing? I mean, given what happened - you've just cited what happened right after Sandy Hook in the Senate. Do you see those political dynamics changing meaningfully 10 years later?

KEITH: It's hard to see how those dynamics could change. Though, tomorrow there is a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for the president's nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. That is a position that has remained unfilled since 2015. It's possible that something like this could create momentum to at least confirm a regulator for guns.

CHANG: All right. That is NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thank you, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ailsa Chang
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Tamara Keith
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.