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Politics Chat: Biden Administration Tackles Gun Control

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

* President Joe Biden gave his first press conference on Thursday, where he laid out his immediate priorities for the coming months. And despite two mass shootings two weeks in a row, gun control was not among them. We have NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith here to tell us more about it. Good morning, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

MCCAMMON: So after the mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado, President Biden said he didn't need to, quote, "wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common-sense steps that will save lives in the future." But then on Thursday, in that press conference, he was asked about gun control, and he pointed to timing, he said. But, you know, pushing for gun control immediately after two horrific mass killings seems like good timing for gun control advocates. So what's happening here?

KEITH: Yeah, I think there are two different definitions of timing, is what's going on. President Biden, when he came into office, had a sequence in mind. He had a plan. And the plan was, first, this American Rescue Plan, the COVID relief bill, then move on to infrastructure, and a big infrastructure plan that could really reshape the American economy and reshape the way America thinks about infrastructure.

He has big plans. And along the way, things are happening. News is happening. Terrible shootings have happened. But President Biden made clear that he intends to stay on this path and have his next major legislative push be infrastructure.

Part of what might be driving this is his history, his history trying to get gun control measures after the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012 when he was vice president. And ultimately, those efforts - after a lot of political capital was spent by the president and the vice president, ultimately, those efforts fizzled.

Gun control advocates, though, are incredibly frustrated. They thought that they had an ally. They took a lot of comfort in the president's comments earlier in the week and were furious Thursday after the press conference when he said it wasn't the right time. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, was asked about that frustration.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEN PSAKI: We would say that the frustration should be vented at the members of the House and Senate who voted against the measures the president supports. And we'd certainly support their advocacy in that regard.

KEITH: Of course, President Biden knows as well as anyone how difficult getting legislation might be. Psaki did say, though, that the White House is working on and vetting executive actions in this area that could be taken short of legislation.

MCCAMMON: OK, Tam, so no big moves on gun control now, but something on infrastructure. Do we know anything about what that will be?

KEITH: We have a little bit of a better picture. What we know is that it could make that $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill look kind of small. The ideas are big. Jen Psaki was on "Fox News Sunday" and said that it's going to be broken into two separate proposals - one that will come out Wednesday with a speech President Biden is going to give in Pittsburgh. That will focus on infrastructure in a more traditional sense - things like roads and bridges and broadband - but also approaching it in a way that is very different than in the past, approaching it from the idea of the fact that there is climate change and wanting to create more resilient infrastructure, emphasizing a green tech-centered economy.

Then later in April, she said, there will be another proposal that will look at more human infrastructure, things like child care and college expenses. And that would be laid out later. In terms of how this would be paid for, whether it could be bipartisan, the size and scope makes it seem somewhat unlikely to be bipartisan, even if some of these infrastructure ideas are very popular among all Americans, including Republicans. The pay-fors - they aren't getting into specifics yet, but they've been clear that they want to raise taxes on the wealthy and businesses who benefited the most from President Trump's tax cuts.

MCCAMMON: And, Tam, the vaccine rollout - as we noted earlier in the program, it's picking up speed with more and more states opening up eligibility to all adults. Does this mean that the administration is on solid ground here now?

KEITH: Yeah. What it means is that the U.S. is moving into the next phase. It's going from a phase where success is constrained by supply to a phase where success will be constrained by demand. And this is going to be a real test of the Biden administration and its ability to be bipartisan because what we know is that there are pockets of hesitancy. And one of those pockets of hesitancy is among people who voted for President Trump, particularly younger people 18 to 49, 18 to 59, who voted for Trump and not for President Biden.

MCCAMMON: So that's the next phase of that fight. Thanks so much for talking with us, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome.

MCCAMMON: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

(SOUNDBITE OF KORESMA'S "THE OVERLOOK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.