President Joe Biden is throwing his support behind two separate proposals in a move that has become increasingly emblematic of his legislative strategy in 2022: bowing to Congress’s lead in addressing top issues.
Biden and Democrats are under pressure to address gun violence and extremely elevated gas prices. Gun violence has been a consistent wedge issue for Democrats dating back to the Sandy Hook shooting, and the recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, re-elevated the topic to the forefront of voters’ minds heading into the 2022 midterm elections. Gas prices, inflation, and the economy have nevertheless consistently polled as the most important issues for both parties heading into November.
Over the past week, the president has endorsed bills attempting to address gun violence and the economy, yet both face an uphill battle toward passage, and neither originated at the specific urging of the president.
Biden called on Congress Wednesday to enact a three-month suspension of federal taxes on gas and diesel fuel. A number of lawmakers have already introduced legislation toward that end, with Sens. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) and Raphael Warnock (D-GA) introducing gas tax holiday bills in February.
However, Biden’s Wednesday calls received lukewarm responses at best from both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) explicitly stated that he would not vote for such a proposal.
Following Biden’s speech, Schumer would not tell reporters if he supported the president’s proposal and declined to say if he would bring any of the prior gas tax bills to the floor for a vote.
Pelosi similarly declined to offer her opinion on Biden’s remarks but did say she would bring the issue up for discussion with the Democratic caucus.
“It is unacceptable that American families are being squeezed at the pump while Big Oil rakes in massive profits at their expense in the middle of Putin’s War,” she said in a statement. “We will see where the consensus lies on a path forward for the president’s proposal in the House and the Senate.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters during Wednesday’s briefing that Pelosi’s comments did not indicate a negative response.
“We have immense respect for the speaker. I think she also said that she was going to bring this to her caucus, which is also important to note,” she demurred. “Look, this is just the beginning of the process. The president talked about this about an hour and a half ago, and we will continue to have conversations with Congress, congressional members, and their staff.”
Biden’s gas tax holiday proposal actually mirrors his initial flip-flop on banning Russian energy products, which in part led to elevated prices at the pump.
The president stated that he would not target Russian energy during the opening weeks of the war as a means of protecting U.S. consumers but eventually caved to bipartisan pressure from lawmakers in early March.
Biden was significantly more forward with his approach to gun violence and directly called on Congress to pass a number of reforms in the wake of the Uvalde and Buffalo mass shootings, such as reinstituting 1994’s ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines and raising the minimum purchase age for all firearms to 21.
Simultaneously, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and John Cornyn (R-TX) began negotiations on a “commonsense” reform bill that has since cleared its first procedural hurdle in the Senate.
But the bill itself features very little of what Biden actually proposed.
The bill includes the following provisions:
$750 million in state funding to stand up crisis intervention programs Closing the “boyfriend” loophole Requiring independent sellers to register as Federally Licensed Firearms Dealers and take part in federal background checks Incentivizing states to create their own regulations against improper firearm transfers New funding for mental health and school safety programs
The bill will not institute federal red flag laws, expand the federal background check system, or repeal liability shields granted to gun manufacturers.
The president chose not to take part in the bipartisan negotiations personally at the specific request of the working group.
“I think the Senate needs to do this ourselves,” Murphy said in a June interview with CNN. “I’ve talked to the White House every single day since these negotiations began, but right now, the Senate needs to handle these negotiations.”
The White House in turn spun Biden not interacting with Murphy and Cornyn’s group as a seasoned decision from a 40-year Senate veteran to give lawmakers ample space to reach a compromise.
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“The president is encouraged at what he is seeing in Congress, in particular with the Senate negotiations,” Jean-Pierre told reporters at the time. “Sen. Murphy came, as you all know, to the White House to give the president an update. We’re very appreciative of his leadership.”