WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama hoped to seize control of the news cycle Monday. Instead, events overtook him and his message again.
As reports broke of a deadly shooting rampage at the Navy Yard, three miles from the White House, the president was forced to alter his script. Over the past three weeks, his muddled response to reports of chemical weapons use in Syria has distracted the administration from looming fights with Congress over the budget and debt ceiling.
This time, Obama was forced to rewrite prepared remarks at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where he was set to talk about the five-year anniversary of the stock market collapse and frame the fiscal debates ahead.
“We still don’t know all the facts, but we do know that several people have been shot and some have been killed,” Obama said solemnly, a collection of small-business owners standing awkwardly behind him on stage.
They had been invited to the White House to serve as symbolic reminders of the impact of economic policy on ordinary Americans as the president launched a week of events intended as a pivot away from Syria.
Obama delayed his remarks for more than 45 minutes to avoid conflicting with a live news conference with D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, D, and Police Chief Cathy Lanier, who briefed reporters on the scene near the shootings in Southeast Washington. Then, after the president addressed the shootings, cable television networks abruptly cut away and returned to the breaking coverage of rampage.
Obama’s second term has been buffeted from the start by unpredictable calamities that have helped scuttle his priorities. In December, a mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 people dead, including 20 children, prompted the newly reelected president to focus on an unsuccessful attempt to pass gun-control legislation ahead of other priorities.
In many ways, Obama has yet to recover from that early-second-term loss. Immigration reform, which was supposed to be Obama’s top domestic priority, is stalled in the Republican-controlled House. A budget standoff in the spring led the White House to accept mandatory, across-the-board spending cuts that have forced federal agencies to scale back programs. And escalating violence in Egypt and Syria has led to renewed questions about Obama’s foreign policy in the Middle East.
White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to comment Monday on whether the administration might revisit its push for gun-control legislation in the wake of the Navy Yard shootings.
“What is true is certainly that the president supports, as do an overwhelming majority of Americans, common-sense measures to reduce gun violence,” Carney said. He noted that Obama is pursuing a list of smaller-scale executive actions to reduce gun violence that do not require Congressional approval.
It appears unlikely that another gun-control push is in the offing given the press of other legislative issues. The administration is pushing forward with implementation of Obama’s signature health-care law in the face of concerted Republican opposition. The president also must name a new chairman of the Federal Reserve after former Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers withdrew from consideration for the job over the weekend due to a lack of Democratic support on Capitol Hill.
In his remarks on the economy, which went on for more than 3,800 words, Obama said: “This country has worked too hard for too long to dig out of a crisis just to see their elected representatives here in Washington purposely cause another crisis. Let’s stop the threats. Let’s stop the political posturing.”