Biden urges faith leaders to pressure lawmakers on background checks

Photo provided by CNN
Tuesday, May 7, 2013 - 2:32pm

During a more than two-hour meeting at the White House on Monday, Vice President Joe Biden asked leaders from across the faith community to keep up pressure on lawmakers to support compromise background check legislation even as Congress begins to shift its focus to immigration reform, according to several attendees who spoke to CNN.

Biden urged the roughly 20 faith leaders in attendance not to be discouraged by recent legislative failures, and instead assured them that the White House had not given up.

"Even though he suffered a defeat, he didn't sound defeated," said pastor Michael McBride of the PICO National Network. "And we need that kind of hope from the bully pulpit of the White House."

In the run-up to last month's Senate vote, religious organizations from across the denominational spectrum pressured members of Congress to vote for background check legislation. Without mentioning the names of any lawmakers, Biden acknowledged the effectiveness of such lobbying efforts and asked those in attendance to continue to target those whose opinions can be swayed.

"We worked on thanking some of the people for whom we knew this was a hard vote and to encourage local churches and synagogues to speak out in the states and districts of those senators and representatives who seem to be either undecided or willing to revisit this issue with an open mind," said Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Specifically, the attendees discussed how some senators who voted for the compromise legislation have seen their approval ratings rise, while some who voted against it have seen a backlash from their constituents.

"There was a sense among some lawmakers that they've gotten a very strong sense of disapprobation that they didn't expect," said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly.

And while Biden wouldn't share specifics, "it's clear they're working on the details of what they're going to do" next, Saperstein said.

The meeting represented a broad cross-section of denominational and ideological views, and several present at the meeting said that everyone was given ample time to air their concerns. According to one person at the meeting, the vice president even engaged in a back-and-forth with prominent leaders of the evangelical Christian community in an effort to assuage concerns about the "intent and spirit" of any gun legislation.

According to the accounts of several attendees, Biden personally assured everyone present that the legislation under consideration wasn't intended to confiscate guns or create a national gun registry.

Evangelicals in attendance included Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; Barrett Duke, vice president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; and Richard Cizik, founder of The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.

"It was a really diverse group, and the vast majority of the people who supported Manchin-Toomey came out absolutely energized, and I think others came out saying, 'I'm going to give this a close look,' " said Vincent DeMarco of Faiths United Against Gun Violence.

He was referring to the failed background check legislation proposed by Sens. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, and Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican. The compromise legislation would have expanded background checks to include private sales at gun shows and all Internet sales, while continuing to exempt most sales between family members and friends.

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