President Biden will travel to Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday to promote his $1.9 trillion stimulus, but his trip is being shadowed by a new outbreak of an old problem: the mass killings of Americans with easily obtainable guns.
On Monday, a gunman killed 10 people, including a police officer, at a grocery store in Boulder, Colo., less than a week after another gunman murdered eight people in Atlanta — a return of mass casualty shootings that had seemed, for a time, to be suppressed by pandemic lockdowns.
“It’s 10 people going about their day living their lives, not bothering anybody,” said Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking at an event in Washington early Tuesday. She added that she was stunned that anyone would kill “a police officer who is performing his duties, and with great courage and heroism.”
Mr. Biden “has been briefed on the shooting in Colorado and he will be kept up to date by his team as there are additional developments,” wrote Jen Psaki, Mr. Biden’s spokeswoman, on Twitter late Monday.
Mr. Biden, who was tasked with coming up with a legislative package of gun control measures by President Barack Obama after the Sandy Hook killings of 2012, plans to address the shooting in Colorado during his appearance in Columbus, a White House aide said.
The White House is intent on juggling multiple priorities simultaneously, and intends to keep the focus on Wednesday on informing people about the benefits of the pandemic relief package and promoting the 11th anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act. Mr. Biden was expected to focus on the parts of the stimulus that will lower health care costs.
Two other administration figures — Xavier Becerra, confirmed last week as the secretary of health and human services, and Doug Emhoff, the second gentleman — will go on the road to make the same pitch, Mr. Becerra in Carson City, Nev., and Mr. Emhoff in Omaha, Neb. Vice President Kamala Harris made a similar trip to Jacksonville, Fla., on Monday.
Mr. Biden “will deliver remarks on the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act being signed into law — of course, something he had a major role in — and encourage Americans to sign up for insurance at HealthCare.gov during the special enrollment period his administration opened amid the pandemic,” Ms. Psaki told reporters on Monday.
The act, a signature achievement of the Obama administration, has proved resilient, despite repeated Republican attacks. More than 200,000 Americans signed up for health insurance under the act during the first two weeks of an open enrollment period Mr. Biden created, and a provision in the stimulus package making Medicaid expansion more fiscally appealing has convinced two deep-red states, Alabama and Wyoming, to consider expanding the program.
While he is in Ohio, the president is also scheduled to meet with Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, to discuss coronavirus vaccinations and other matters related to the pandemic.
Senators quickly splintered along partisan lines over gun control measures on Tuesday as Democrats demanded action in the wake of two mass shootings in the past week and Republicans denounced their calls, highlighting the political divide that has fueled a decades-long cycle of inaction on gun violence.
At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee that was scheduled before shootings in Atlanta and Boulder that left at least 18 people dead, Democrats argued that the latest carnage left Congress no choice but to enact stricter policies. They lamented the grim pattern of anguish and outrage followed by partisanship and paralysis had become the norm following mass shootings.
“In addition to a moment of silence, I would like to ask for a moment of action,” said Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and the chairman of the committee. “A moment of real caring. A moment when we don’t allow others to do what we need to do. Prayer leaders have their important place in this, but we are Senate leaders. What are we doing?”
Even before the recent shootings, Democrats had already begun advancing stricter gun control measures that face long odds in the 50-50 Senate. House Democrats passed two bills this month aimed at expanding and strengthening background checks for gun buyers, by applying them to all gun buyers and extending the time the F.B.I. has to vet those flagged by the national instant check system.
But the twin pieces of legislation passed in the House have been deemed too expansive by most Republicans — only eight House Republicans voted to advance the universal background check legislation. The bills would almost certainly not muster the 60 votes needed to clear a filibuster in the Senate.
Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the panel, said in his opening remarks that he was hopeful Democrats and Republicans could work together to make “bipartisan, common-sense” progress on gun control. But he said that the House-passed legislation did not fit that bill, since the measures passed almost entirely along party lines.
“That is not a good sign that all voices and all perspectives are being considered,” Mr. Grassley said.
Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, went further, lashing out at Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, who said that Republicans had offered “fig leaves” rather than actionable, significant solutions to gun control.
“Every time there’s a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders,” Mr. Cruz said. “But what they propose — not only does it not reduce crime, it makes it worse.”
The renewed focus on gun control is expected to cast attention back on Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, who opposes dismantling the legislative filibuster but has long labored — fruitlessly — to pass a bipartisan gun control proposal. Following the 2012 shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Mr. Manchin brokered a deal with Senator Pat Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, to close legal loopholes that allow people who purchase firearms at gun shows or on the internet to avoid background checks, but proponents were unable to pick up enough support to pass it.
Mr. Manchin told CQ Roll Call earlier this month that he opposed the House-passed universal background check bill, citing its provision requiring checks for sales between private citizens, but said he was interested in reviving the Manchin-Toomey legislation.
As president, Joseph R. Biden Jr. finds himself in a position distressingly similar to the one he confronted eight years ago as vice president: trying to figure out a way to stop mass shootings and meeting resistance from conservative gun owners and their political allies.
In 2020, gun control was given a prominent place on Mr. Biden’s campaign website, but it had been a back-burner concern for a new administration single-mindedly determined to address the pandemic and its economic damage.
That could change following the attacks in Atlanta and Boulder, and if so, Mr. Biden’s successes and failures over the past three decades on gun control are likely to inform how he confronts the crisis as president.
President Barack Obama chose not to act immediately following the massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. in 2012, as many Democrats had hoped, by pushing for a quick vote on gun control legislation.
Instead, he delegated the task of coming up with a package of reforms to Mr. Biden, who had helped pass the landmark Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and a 10-year assault weapons ban in the 1990s when he served in the Senate.
From his earliest days in the administration. Mr. Biden pushed Mr. Obama to do more on guns, to little avail, his advisers later said. “Even before Newtown, the vice president had wanted the administration to push harder on the issue,” Bruce Reed, Mr. Biden’s chief of staff as vice president, and still a trusted adviser, told a reporter in 2015.
The decision to tap Mr. Biden irked many of Mr. Obama’s closest advisers: They thought he needed to personally push through a series of strong measures immediately, while emotions were high, to force lawmakers to cast votes of conscience.
Five weeks after the killings, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden announced 23 relatively modest executive actions, and called on Congress to pass three laws: universal background checks, a new assault weapons ban, and a prohibition on high-capacity gun clips.
Mr. Biden, consulting with his former colleagues in the Senate, decided the best course of action was to focus on only one element, the background checks, and persuaded progressives to settle for a limited but important initiative.
The strategy, and the bill, quickly failed.
“Eight years later, there have been plenty of thoughts and prayers, but we know that is not enough,” Mr. Biden said in December, marking the anniversary of Sandy Hook. “We will fight to end this scourge on our society and enact common sense reforms that are supported by a majority of Americans and that will save countless lives.”
Mr. Biden’s proposals, listed on his website, are strikingly similar to the reforms he proposed as vice president.
White House aides are considering a number of executive actions, including one that would impose background checks for buyers of homemade firearms that lack serial numbers, a proposal to close a loophole that allows a gun to be transferred from licensed gun dealers before a completed background check, and various plans to keep guns away from people suffering from mental illness.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, confronted with the mass shootings of 18 people in two states within the span of a week, will hold a hearing on the problem of gun violence on Tuesday morning as advocates of regulation raise a plea for Congress to act.
Only hours after the shooting in Boulder, Colo., on Monday night, signs of a familiar partisan divide on guns began to appear. Some Democrats called for action, including the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, who said, “This Senate must and will move forward on legislation to help stop the epidemic of gun violence.”
Some Republicans, including Representative Lauren Boebert, who made supporting gun owners’ rights a key part of her agenda while running for office in Colorado, expressed sympathy for the victims. “May God be with us as we make sense of this senseless violence, and may we unify and not divide during this time,” she said.
Advocacy groups quickly responded. The group Everytown for Gun Safety said the shooting in Boulder was at least the 246th mass shooting in the United States since January 2009, and that on average 805 people die by gun violence in Colorado every year.
“This is yet another in a long string of horrific tragedies, from Boulder today to Atlanta last week to the dozens more people in the United States who are shot every day,” said John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown for Gun Safety, in a statement. “To save lives and end these senseless killings, we need more than thoughts and prayers — we need federal action on gun safety from the Senate and the administration.”
Gabrielle Giffords, the former representative from Arizona who was shot a decade ago, wrote on Twitter: “It’s been 10 years and countless communities have faced something similar. This is not normal.” She added, “It’s beyond time for our leaders to take action.”
Today it’s a tragedy in Boulder, Colorado. This past weekend it was a house party in Philadelphia. And last week it was an armed attack on Asian American women in the Atlanta area. It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s beyond time for our leaders to take action.
— Gabrielle Giffords (@GabbyGiffords) March 23, 2021
A representative of her group, the Giffords Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence, was to speak at the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, on a witness list that includes a fellow from the conservative group Heritage Foundation and the police chief of Waterbury, Conn., among others.
President Biden had been briefed on the shooting in Boulder and would be kept apprised of any further developments, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, tweeted on Monday.
In 2019, two national surveys found that vast majorities of Americans — Democrats and Republicans, men and women — support stricter gun laws. Polls also found that gun violence was beginning to scare people: a third of Americans reported that fear of a mass shooting stops them from going to certain public places, according to one survey by the American Psychological Association. Sixty percent said they were worried about a mass shooting in their community. Despite the broad support for action such as stricter background checks, Republicans in Congress have historically resisted attempts to regulate guns, and the issue has repeatedly fallen on lawmakers’ agendas.
The National Rifle Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Its last tweet, at 8 p.m. Monday night, hours after the shooting, repeated the text of the second amendment.
The Senate is set to confirm Shalanda D. Young on Tuesday afternoon as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, which would make her the first confirmed leadership official at the agency after President Biden’s pick for director withdrew amid bipartisan opposition.
Neera Tanden, Mr. Biden’s nominee to lead the budget agency, withdrew early this month after senators in both parties objected to negative posts she had made on social media and criticized her work at the Center for American Progress. The position of O.M.B. director is one of only two top -level vacancies remaining in the Biden administration, leaving Ms. Young to steer the agency in the absence of a director or acting director.
Democrats on Capitol Hill have mounted a substantial campaign to elevate Ms. Young, the first Black woman to serve as staff director on the House Appropriations Committee, to the position of director. Having worked to negotiate annual government funding and more than $3 trillion in pandemic relief, Ms. Young has earned bipartisan respect in both the House and Senate for her work.
She is expected to play a key role in working with other cabinet officials to structure Mr. Biden’s first budget as president, as well as an infrastructure package.
The only other cabinet-level role yet to be filled in the Biden administration is that of the head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Mr. Biden has nominated Eric S. Lander, the director of the Broad Institute of M.I.T. and Harvard, to serve in that role, and also intends to appoint him to serve as presidential science adviser. It is the first time that the position will be elevated to the cabinet level.
Jerome H. Powell, the head of the Federal Reserve, plans to tell lawmakers on Tuesday that the economy is healing and that although many workers and businesses continue to suffer, the aggressive response from the central bank, Congress and the White House helped to avoid the most devastating economic scenarios.
“While the economic fallout has been real and widespread, the worst was avoided by swift and vigorous action,” Mr. Powell will tell the House Financial Services committee, according to prepared remarks.
Mr. Powell will be testifying alongside Janet L. Yellen, who preceded him as Fed chair and is now President Biden’s Treasury secretary.
The testimony is the first time Ms. Yellen and Mr. Powell have appeared side by side in their current roles. President Donald J. Trump chose to replace Ms. Yellen with Mr. Powell at the Fed, but the two economic officials spent several years working together at the Fed and have a good rapport.
Ms. Yellen is expected to face questions on executing Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic relief legislation, as well as the existing programs that were created during the Trump administration that the Treasury is still required to oversee.
The Treasury Department has been racing to distribute $1,400 checks to millions of Americans, posing a test for Ms. Yellen’s team, which is not yet fully in place.
Ms. Yellen pushed hard for a robust fiscal relief package and has suggested that the next bill needs to be focused on addressing longer-term structural issues facing the economy that have led to vast income inequality.
In her prepared remarks, Ms. Yellen describes rescue legislation as precisely what the economy needed.
“With the passage of the rescue plan, I am confident that people will reach the other side of this pandemic with the foundations of their lives intact,” Ms. Yellen will say. “And I believe they will be met there by a growing economy. In fact, I think we may see a return to full employment next year.”
Mr. Powell, according to his prepared remarks, will point out that the economy has recently improved and that the labor market has begun adding back jobs after a winter lull. But he will note that those metrics may not capture the full extent of the damage to workers.
“However, the sectors of the economy most adversely affected by the resurgence of the virus, and by greater social distancing, remain weak, and the unemployment rate — still elevated at 6.2 percent — underestimates the shortfall,” Mr. Powell is set to say.
The Fed chair will add that the central bank, which has rates at near-zero and is buying bonds to keep credit flowing and to bolster the economy, “will not lose sight of the millions of Americans who are still hurting.”
Mr. Powell will say the Fed’s many market-facing programs in 2020, which supported credit to corporations, midsize businesses and municipalities, helped to “keep organizations from shuttering and put employers in both a better position to keep workers on and to hire them back as the recovery continues.”
And he will underline that the programs, in most cases, have either shut down or will soon end. Mr. Powell consistently has said that the lending efforts, supported by the Treasury, were emergency tools that the Fed would stop using once conditions were stable.
A pair of hard-right politicians announced Senate bids in Missouri and Alabama on Monday night, igniting what are expected to be contentious primary races for open seats in two conservative states.
In Missouri, Eric Greitens, the former governor who resigned after a scandal involving allegations of sexual misconduct and blackmail, said he would run for the seat being vacated by Senator Roy Blunt, who surprised Republicans this month when he announced plans to retire after next year. And in Alabama, Representative Mo Brooks, a staunch backer of former President Donald J. Trump, joined the race to succeed Senator Richard Shelby, who has also said he will not seek re-election in 2022.
The announcements, along with a new conservative challenge to the Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, who withstood Mr. Trump’s pressure to overturn the state’s election results last year, offer the clearest signal yet that Republicans may face the kind of combative primary season some party leaders had hoped to avoid. Since Mr. Trump lost the election, Republicans have struggled to unify around a consistent message against the new administration, spending far more time fighting among themselves over loyalty to the former president and the culture war issues that animate his base.
Mr. Brooks cast himself as one of the former president’s strongest supporters as he announced his Senate bid at a Huntsville gun range, where he was introduced by Stephen Miller, a former adviser to Mr. Trump.
“I have stood by his side during two impeachment hoaxes, during the Russian collusion hoax, and in the fight for honest and accurate elections,” Mr. Brooks said in an interview with Fox News. “The president knows that. The voters of Alabama know that, and they appreciate it.”
A six-term congressman, Mr. Brooks, 66, was one of the first members of Congress to publicly declare that he would object to certifying President Biden’s election victory. He faced calls for censure from Democrats after remarking at the rally that preceded the Capitol riot that it was time to “start taking down names and kicking ass.” Mr. Brooks has said the phrase was misconstrued as advocating for the violence that followed.
Mr. Greitens, 46, is also running under the Trump banner, though it remains unclear whether the former president will endorse his bid. He faced months of allegations, criminal charges and court proceedings after explosive allegations emerged of an affair, sexual misconduct and blackmail involving his former hairstylist. He resigned as Missouri’s governor in 2018, less than two years into his term; he was never convicted of a crime.
Renounced by his biggest donors and former strategists, Mr. Greitens has been championed by some in Mr. Trump’s orbit and is a frequent guest on a podcast hosted by the former Trump chief adviser Steve Bannon.
As Lt. Gen. Karen Gibson watched the violence and horror of the Jan. 6 mob attack on the Capitol, her mind flashed back to the war zones where she had led military intelligence operations.
“I was aghast,” the retired Army general recalled on Monday, standing on a balcony on the west side of the Capitol, not far from where rioters had smashed widows and assaulted police officers. “I thought, ‘I am witnessing the kind of activities that I have seen happen in nations I deployed to.’ I never expected to see that in the United States. It was shocking.”
Now it is up to General Gibson, 56, of Bozeman, Mont., to try to ensure that such an assault never reaches the halls of Congress again.
On Monday, she was sworn in as the Senate’s new sergeant-at-arms, its top security official. She is just the second woman to hold the position in the chamber’s 232-year history. General Gibson’s leadership team is groundbreaking: It includes Kelly Fado as deputy sergeant-at-arms and Jennifer Hemingway as chief of staff — the first time all three of the Senate’s top security posts have been held by women.
Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, called the team the “three most qualified people you could find.”
During her 33-year career, General Gibson rose to be a deputy director of national intelligence. She worked on operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, East Africa, Korea and the Pacific, and across the Middle East. As the director of intelligence for U.S. Central Command, she was involved with clandestine ground operatives and technical intelligence collection from space.
General Gibson is starting her new post at a demanding time for Capitol security. Nearly 140 police officers were injured during the January attack by Trump supporters, and five people died. In the aftermath, all three top Capitol security officials resigned under pressure.
Following the attack, General Gibson volunteered to join a security review led by Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré, a retired Army officer who had been appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. That task force recommended hiring more than 800 Capitol Police officers, building mobile fencing around the complex and changing Capitol Police Board procedures to allow the chief of the agency to quickly summon the National Guard during an emergency.
As part of the task force, General Gibson studied the ins and outs of the use of intelligence by security personnel and found some major deficiencies. The task force’s report noted that “only a handful of people” in the Capitol Police “have significant intelligence training.”
In her new role, General Gibson is faced with striking a delicate balance between securing the Capitol and maintaining public access to a symbol of American democracy. She said she hoped to restore the “faith” and “confidence” in the office.
Justice Department officials have reviewed potential sedition charges against members of the Oath Keepers militia group who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, and they have been weighing whether to file them for weeks, according to law enforcement officials briefed on the deliberations.
The group members, including Thomas E. Caldwell, Jessica M. Watkins and Donovan Crowl, were indicted last month on charges of conspiring to obstruct Congress’s ability to certify President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Electoral College victory.
The Justice Department has rarely brought charges of sedition, the crime of conspiring to overthrow the government, and has not successfully prosecuted such a case in more than 20 years.
The decision about how to move forward has languished while Justice Department leaders go through the Senate confirmation process. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland was sworn in on March 11 and is likely to have final say over such a high-profile case.
Law enforcement officials have given senior officials in the Justice Department’s National Security Division potential evidence that they had gathered about the trio and an analysis of whether those facts supported a sedition charge, but they stopped short of delivering a more formal prosecution memo or a draft of an indictment, one of the officials said.
In court documents, federal prosecutors said that the group of Oath Keepers not only planned to interfere in the final election certification, but that they “trained in paramilitary combat tactics in advance of the Jan. 6 operation” and were seen “forcibly storming” the barricades at the Capitol.
They have also emphasized in court papers that members of the group discussed stationing help at a hotel just outside of the city, ready to bring arms into Washington “if something goes to hell,” citing a message sent by Mr. Caldwell to Ms. Watkins.
Lawyers for Mr. Caldwell, Ms. Watkins and Mr. Crowl have vigorously denied that their clients plotted to attack the Capitol, and they have argued that prosecutors misinterpreted communications or exaggerated the strength of the evidence against them. Their lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.
This week, a federal judge is scheduled to determine whether the trio will remain in jail awaiting trial.
The United States placed sanctions on top Chinese officials on Monday, as part of a multinational effort to punish Beijing for human rights abuses against the largely Muslim Uighur minority group, which American officials have called a genocide.
The penalties — in coordination with the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada — come days after the Biden administration’s heated encounter with Chinese officials in Alaska, and will most likely widen tensions between Washington and Beijing.
“Amid growing international condemnation, the P.R.C. continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity” in its western Xinjiang region, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in a statement on Monday, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
The United States imposed penalties on Wang Junzheng, the secretary of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, and Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, for their roles in detaining and severely abusing Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, the Treasury Department said.
The U.S. move came hours after the European Union, United Kingdom and Canada levied their own sanctions against Chinese officials and entities for human rights violations in Xinjiang. The European Union targeted four Chinese officials, along with the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau. The United Kingdom did the same. Canada did not release the names of its targets.
“This move, based on nothing but lies and disinformation, disregards and distorts facts,” Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a statement condemning the European Union action, adding that the effort “grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs” and “severely undermines China-E.U. relations.”
Mr. Blinken said the joint action is an effort on the part of the United States to work “multilaterally to advance respect for human rights.” A joint statement released by the top diplomats representing the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, among others, demanded that Beijing “end its repressive practices against Uighur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang, and to release those arbitrarily detained.”