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President Biden criticizes Republicans on gun votes in address to the nation

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

** President Biden has traveled recently to the sites of two mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas. Last night, there was another in Tulsa, Okla. That was the 233rd mass shooting in the U.S. this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. And tonight, President Biden addressed the nation and said it is time to do something.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: My fellow Americans, enough - enough. It's time for each of us to do our part. It's time to act for the children we've lost, the children we can save, for the nation we love. Let's hear the call and the cry. Let's meet the moment. Let us finally do something.

CHANG: All right. Joining us now is NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Hi, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So what was the central message from the president tonight? Like, what was the ultimate purpose of tonight's speech?

KEITH: This speech was a more sweeping address than the kind of everyday speeches he delivers at the White House. They set up this backdrop behind him with long rows of flickering candles, sort of evoking the image of a memorial. And he put this all in really graphic terms, talking about the injuries that the children in Uvalde sustained being so devastating that some had to be identified with DNA. He talked about meeting with family members in Uvalde and in Buffalo and these family members saying, just do something, calling on him to make something happen, to make change happen. He turned to the broader stakes, pointing out that gun violence is the No. 1 cause of death for children in the United States. And he called for Congress to take action, outlining a series of steps that he'd like to see them take, though political reality might not make that possible.

CHANG: Well, let's talk about that. What specifically was President Biden calling on Congress to do?

KEITH: It's a lot of what he's asked them to do before, including in his State of the Union address just a couple of months ago - calling for universal background checks and banning assault-style weapons with high-capacity magazines. He wants red flag laws. It's a very long list, and here's a bit of it.

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BIDEN: We need to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. And if we can't ban assault weapons, then we should raise the age to purchase them from 18 to 21, strengthen background checks, enact safe storage law and red flag laws, repeal the immunity to protect gun manufacturers from liability, address the mental health crisis.

KEITH: One thing that really stood out to me here in his remarks is that he said, if we can't get this assault weapons ban, which is something that he passed when he was in Congress and something that he has been calling for repeatedly, especially after these mass shootings - he says if we can't get that, then at least raise the age to purchase one of these weapons.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, you know, there are some fragile negotiations going on right now among lawmakers on Capitol Hill. How do the president's recommendations tonight actually mesh with the ideas that are under consideration among senators right now?

KEITH: Well, so the reason that the Senate has far less ambitious ideas than the president of the United States is that it's going to require 60 votes to get past a filibuster. Republicans mostly don't support any sort of gun safety legislation. And so they are trying to find a very narrow, specific window of items that they could potentially get agreement on.

CHANG: Right. That is NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thank you so much, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.