Attorney General Eric Holder said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today that President Obama is open to using an executive action to push through gun-control and/or associated mental health measures that haven’t found approval in Congress.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), one of the top proponents of new gun-control measures in Congress, noted that Obama only made a “very brief” reference to gun violence in his State of the Union address.
“But I hope, and I hope you will join me in the view that the president remains completely committed to ending gun violence in this country, adopting common sense sensible measures like background checks and mental health initiatives; a ban on straw purchases and illegal trafficking,” Blumenthal said to Holder at the Justice Department oversight hearing.
“The bill that was before us unfortunately failed to pass, but I’d like your commitment on behalf of the administration that he remains resolutely and steadfastly in support of these initiatives.”
“Yes, we do still have that commitment,” Holder responded, adding that “if the American people, legislators, members of Congress, had had the ability to be with me” when he visited the scene of the Newtown shooting “to walk through those classrooms and see the caked blood, to see the tufts of carpet that I didn’t quite understand when I first saw it – the carpet picked up. And then I realized that that was – those were bullets – where bullets had gone through and picked up the carpet. If people had seen the crime scene search pictures of those little angels, I suspect that the outcome of our – that effort that we mounted last year would have been different.”
“Our resolve remains the same. My resolve is as firm as it was back then. And I think what we should also understand is that the vast majority of the American people still want those common sense gun safety measures that we advanced last year. Our commitment is real and we will revisit these issues,” the attorney general added.
“And on the subject of the use of the president’s authority, my hope is – and I would argue that he take whatever action is possible, as he has done in a number of steps already and as you have done in trying to clarify the mental health issues that have to be reported to the NIC system, my hope is that additional measures, executive actions are contemplated under that authority,” Blumenthal continued.
“The president – it is his intention to again try to work with Congress, but in the absence of meaningful action to explore all the possibilities and use all the powers that he has to, frankly, just protect the American people,” Holder replied.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) asked Holder to explain the constitutional authority under which Obama has decided to grab his pen and paper in lieu of the legislative branch.
“Well, there have been consultations done with the Justice Department,” Holder said before Lee interjected, “It would be very helpful for you to release legal analysis produced by the Office of Legal Counsel, or whoever is advising the president on these issues.”
“[The president] has made far less use of his executive power at this point in his administration than some of his predecessors have and he will only do so, as I indicated previously, where he is unable to work with Congress to do things together,” Holder said.
Lee said he “respectfully but forcefully” disagreed with Holder’s assertion.
“When you look at the quality – not just the quantity, but the quality – the nature of the executive orders that he has issued, he has usurped an extraordinary amount of authority within the executive branch,” the senator continued. “This is not precedented. And I point to the delay – the unilateral delay – lawless delay, in my opinion, of the employer mandate as an example of this.”
Lee called for the Department of Justice to release documents that explain the executive action decision “so that the American people can be aware of what’s happening and on what basis [the President] is claiming that authority.”