What should have been an event to celebrate the approval of a new gun safety law turned into yet another sign that US President Joe Biden is in trouble. Manuel Oliver, the father of a 17-year-old teenager who was killed in the 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, interrupted Biden’s speech on Monday, demanding the Democrat “do more” to address gun violence.
“Today is many things. It’s proof that despite the naysayers, we can make meaningful progress on dealing with gun violence,” said Biden from the South Lawn at the White House, before hundreds of guests including the survivors and family members of victims of mass shootings.
As Biden spoke about the gun legislation, Oliver stood up and shouted: “We have to do more than that!”
A visibly angry Biden asked the man to sit down and let him finish. What followed was a confusing exchange in which Oliver – to the applause of the audience – argued that little has been done to stop gun violence in the four and a half years since his son was killed. Oliver was then escorted away, while Biden continued with his speech.
“Make no mistake about it. This legislation is real progress, but more has to be done,” he said. “The provision of this new legislation is going to save lives. And it’s proof that in today’s politics we can come together on a bipartisan basis to get important things done, even on an issue as tough as guns.”
The incident comes as Biden faces widespread criticism for his lack of action on key issues such as the fight against climate change, abortion and gun control, even though the new legislation managed to secure the support of 14 House Republicans.
“Our hearts go out to Manuel Oliver who has suffered a deep, deep loss,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre at a press conference later in the afternoon, adding that Biden met with Olivier before the event. “The president agrees with him. He agrees we need to do more.”
A joint poll by The New York Times and Siena College, published on Monday, found that 64% of Democratic voters do not want Biden to be the candidate for the 2024 presidential elections (compared to 26% who do, and 10% who do not know or did not answer). “Widespread concerns about the economy and inflation have helped turn the national mood decidedly dark, both on Mr. Biden and the trajectory of the nation,” The New York Times explained in its analysis of the results. “More than three-quarters of registered voters see the United States moving in the wrong direction, a pervasive sense of pessimism that spans every corner of the country, every age range and racial group, cities, suburbs and rural areas.”
The poll data among voters under 30 is especially worrying: 94% would prefer the Democrats to present another, younger candidate for the 2024 election. At age 79, Biden was the oldest president to take office in American history. In second place is Donald Trump, who is so far the most likely Republican presidential candidate for the next election. Both Trump and Biden saw record-low approval ratings 18 months into their mandate. For Biden, this figure has been stuck at around 40% since last fall. The poll does not bode well for the upcoming midterm elections in November, where control of the Senate and a third of the seats in the House of Representatives are at stake.
The New York Times poll, which was carried out last week, represents a shift among progressive media, which up until recently had been wary of speaking openly about Biden’s problems. No such reservation has been seen among conservative outlets, which have jumped on the president’s every stumble, recently mocking him for accidentally reading teleprompter instructions during a speech. In the middle of the address, Biden accidentally said “end of quote, repeat the line” – something meant as an instruction not to be read out loud.