Biden's appeals for action on guns, policing face reality

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The American flag flies at half-staff over the White House in Washington, Friday, April 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON – As the nation struggles with yet another mass shooting and faces a reckoning over the deaths of Black men at the hands of police, President Joe Biden is calling for action. Going beyond that, however, is proving a lot more difficult.

Three months into his presidency, Biden's robust agenda is running up against the realities of his narrow Democratic majority on Capitol Hill and the Senate's limited ability to tackle multiple pieces of large-scale legislation at once. With the White House focusing first on a sweeping coronavirus relief package and now a sprawling infrastructure plan that is likely to dominate the congressional calendar for months, issues like gun control and police reform appear likely to take a back seat.

Biden on Friday insisted that wasn't the case, saying that on the issue of gun control in particular, “I've never not prioritized this.” He spoke a day after a gunman killed eight people at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, the latest in a rash of mass shootings across the United States in recent weeks.

At issue for Biden are many of the central promises he made to Democratic voters — particularly Black voters who helped propel him to the White House — both about his priorities and his ability to maneuver in Washington, where issues like gun control have languished for years. The mass shootings, as well as renewed focus on police killings of Americans of color following incidents in Chicago and a Minneapolis suburb, have increased demands for action

DeAnna Hoskins, president and CEO of Just LeadershipUSA, a police reform advocacy group, suggested activists are willing to be patient but not for long. She welcomed Biden's recent executive orders on gun control, which took modest steps toward tightening background checks, but said “those actions don't go far enough.”

"They don’t have the tentacles down in to really hit where rubber hits the road,” Hoskins said.

The White House says it can multitask, pushing publicly on its infrastructure plan while working to build support among moderate Democrats and Republicans on gun control and policing reform behind the scenes.

“In this building, the legislative team, senior members of the White House staff, we are working on multiple fronts at the same time,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.