Gun control groups controlled White House

Mar 7, 2013 by

The White House knew its post-Newtown effort would require bringing key gun-control groups into the fold. So the White House offered a simple arrangement: the groups could have access and involvement, but they’d have to offer silence and support in exchange.

The implied rules, according to conversations with many of those involved: No infighting. No second guessing in the press. Support whatever the president and Vice President Joe Biden propose. And most of all, don’t make waves or get ahead of the White House.

(PHOTOS: Politicians speak out on gun control)

In exchange: a voice in the discussions, a role in whatever final agreement is made and weekly meetings at the White House with Biden’s chief of staff, Bruce Reed — provided they don’t discuss what happens there.

“The implication is very, very strong when they are calling these meetings and we are all sitting there,” said one regular attendee, who like the others, would only speak about them anonymously. “It’s not like they’re being bullies, it’s them bringing everybody together, not being one-off meetings with groups that might be interested in things other than the bottom line, not providing the forum for that kind of stuff.”

“You’re glad to be in the room,” another participant in the Reed meetings said. “Because this issue has been dead for a long time and now there’s a real opportunity there.”

For the White House, which wouldn’t comment about Reed’s meetings or the relationships with the gun control groups, this strategy was about insuring the president had a united front as he pushed for new laws — and that he won’t shoulder the blame if and when the negotiations fail.

(PHOTOS: Best lines from the gun violence hearing)

But he’s forced a major change on some of Washington’s noisiest advocates: the Brady Campaign, Third Way, Mike Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Americans for Responsible Solutions, the organization founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and her husband, Mark Kelly. In past fights, gun control groups sparred with each other and got used to dictating the agenda to allies in Congress.

(Also on POLITICO: NRA campaign in high gear)

Now they’re just happy to be included in the discussion, and still holding out hope that something might happen.

“There is a lot of reliance on how the White House sees the strategy and the tactics going forward,” said Paul Helmke, who was the Brady Campaign president from 2006 to 2011. “We need the White House.”

That’s held true even as the hopes for any legislation has dimmed on even the most basic measures. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday ended the bipartisan talks on universal background checks with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and filed his own bill without co-sponsors or the suggestions made by Coburn and Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.).

How White House quieted gun control groups – Reid J. Epstein –

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