In an effort to push forward stalled gun control legislation, Vice President Joe Biden met on Monday at the White House with faith leaders, including three representatives of the Jewish community.
In the meeting, which lasted two and a half hours, Biden discussed at length the current status of the background check legislation which failed its first test in Senate last month. Biden encouraged the group of 22 clergy members to continue their work in all states to make lawmakers know of their support for the legislation. He noted it is still not clear when would be the right time to bring the bill back to a vote on the Senate floor and made clear he believes it would happen only after debate over immigration reform is completed.
The event, organized by the White House office of faith-based initiatives, included Christian, Jewish, Sikh and Muslim religious leaders. The Jewish community was represented by Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, Jared Feldman who heads the Washington office of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly.
“It was an unusual meeting in it duration, intensity and thoughtfulness,” Schonfeld said after the meeting. In the meeting, Rabbi Schonfeld used a Hebrew phrase, roughly translated to “we will cross the bridge when we reach it” to address claims by those who voted against background checks that it will lead to further limitations on gun ownership if passed. “Our country is so divided in anticipatory anxiety,” she said, suggesting that all can agree on background checks and later deal with other aspects of gun control.
Participants spoke at the meeting about the need for “a unified moral voice” against gun violence and vowed to take action in their own communities. While not sending off the clergy with a clear political to-do list, Biden spoke about the need to increase pressure mainly in states where senators voted against the bill when first presented in Senate.
The Jewish community, a long supporter of gun control, had been a reliable ally for the White House in its efforts to change gun laws following the Newtown shooting. Jewish groups are now increasing their efforts across the country despite the fact that Jewish population is scarce in many of southern and Republican-controlled states in which the fight for more votes is now raging.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.