President Biden on Tuesday called for the Senate to swiftly pass two measures approved by the House that would expand background checks following Monday night's shooting in Boulder, Colorado, that left 10 people dead, including a police officer. Following his remarks, Mr. Biden left the White House for Columbus, Ohio, where he spoke about the American Rescue Plan and health care.
"This is not and should not be a partisan issue. This is an American issue," Mr. Biden said before departing. "It will save lives, American lives, and we have to act."
The president appealed directly to the U.S. Senate, urging the upper chamber to "immediately" approve two billswith bipartisan support this month, which expand background checks on firearm sales.
"That's one of the best tools we have right now to prevent gun violence," he said of closing the loopholes in the background check system.
Mr. Biden further called for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. A nationwide ban on those weapons was last enacted in 1994, but it expired in 2004. While lawmakers have since made several attempts to revive the ban, those efforts have failed.
"I want to be clear: those poor folks who died left behind families — leaves a big hole in their hearts," he said. "And we can save lives increasing the background checks like they're supposed to occur and eliminating assault weapons and the size of the magazines."
The president extended condolences to the families of the 10 people who lost their lives in the shooting in Boulder, including police Officer Eric Talley, who he said is the "definition of an American hero."
"Ten lives have been lost and more families have been shattered by gun violence in the state of Colorado, and Jill and I are devastated," Mr. Biden said. "And the feeling, I just can't imagine how the families are feeling, the victims whose futures were stolen from them, from their families, from their loved ones, who now have to struggle to go on and try to make sense of what's happened."
Boulder police have identified Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, 21, as the suspected shooter. He has been charged with 10 counts of murder in the first degree and is in custody.
Mr. Biden noted much remains unknown about the shooting, including the suspect's motive, but vowed to use all the resources at my disposal to keep the American people safe."
The president also ordered flags at the White House and on federal property in the U.S. and abroad to be flown at half-staff until sunset March 27 "as a mark of respect for the victims of the senseless acts of violence perpetrated" in Boulder. An earlier proclamationlast week ordering flags at half-staff to honor the eight victims of the shootings at Atlanta-area spas lasted until Monday evening.
Before Biden advocated for the Senate to act on the two House-passed bills that would close loopholes in the background checks system, centrist Democrat Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia told reporters that he opposes the measures.
"I mean, I come from a gun culture," Manchin said. "And I'm a law-abiding gun owner would do the right thing, you have to assume we will do the right thing, give me a chance to do."
Manchin, who worked on gun reform legislation with Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania in 2013 to close loopholes on firearms purchased at gun shows, added that he is still supportive of that proposal.
Toomey, meanwhile, told reporters Tuesday that he does not believe the House-passed bills would clear the Senate, but added that he's been involved in preliminary conversations to get legislation "across the goal line."
The upper chamber is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, and Vice President Kamala Harris casts tie-breaking votes. Because of the margins in the Senate, Manchin wields tremendous power as a swing vote.
Mr. Biden traveled to Ohio on Tuesday afternoon, part of the president's "Help is Here" tour, which is supposed to focus on how the American Rescue Plan lowers health care costs for some. Tuesday is the 11th anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act.
"When we work together we can do big things, important things, necessary things," Mr. Biden said, referring both to the passage of the ACA and the American Rescue Plan. He also said that it was "patriotic" to get vaccinated.
The package temporarily expands ACA subsidies, introduces new COBRA subsidies, and offers additional Medicaid coverage, among other things. People earning between 100 and 150% of the federal poverty level can have their entire premium covered.
Mr. Biden was vice president when the ACA passed and was signed into law.
The president, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff have been traveling around the country in recent days to sell the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion package Congress passed earlier this month. Harris was in Florida on Monday to sell the package, and Emhoff was in Nebraska on Monday and is in Missouri on Tuesday.
The massive aid package resulted in direct checks to Americans, and provides more funding for families with children and schools, among other things. Republicans, none of whom voted for the package, say the package is too big and much of it doesn't directly relate to COVID-19.
Grace Segers and Jack Turman contributed reporting.