"I will not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform,” Obama wrote. The president then commented on gun manufacturer liability, an issue on which Sanders had notably voted with Republicans.
Though Sanders now claims he is open to revisiting his support for liability legislation that benefits gun manufacturers, Obama’s comment that he will be a single-issue voter in 2016 was widely perceived as many as a warning to the Democratic presidential contender.
“Today, the gun industry is almost entirely unaccountable,” Obama noted in his op-ed. “Thanks to the gun lobby’s decades of efforts, Congress has blocked our consumer products safety experts from being able to require that firearms have even the most basic safety measures … they’ve guaranteed that manufacturers enjoy virtual immunity from lawsuits, which means that they can sell lethal products and rarely face consequences.”
Did the president’s statement intentionally target Sanders? Not the case, according to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.
“The president was quite intentional about raising this issue as it relates to gun manufacturers and how they have essentially abdicated their responsibility to ensure that their business practices and that their products are safe, but that was not any sort of secret or subtle signal to demonstrate a preference in the presidential primary,” Earnest said during today press briefing. “But the president takes this seriously, and any candidate running for any office is going to have to demonstrate their commitment to these common sense measures before they can expect to get the support of the President of the United States.”
Asked whether read Obama’s words as a “warning shot,” Sanders, I-Vermont, said he does not identify the comment as directed at him.
“No, I don't. I truly don't,” Sanders told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell during an interview today. “There are a lot of candidates running in the House and the Senate who may be opposed to sensible gun control legislation. I happen not to be one of them. I strongly support the executive order that the president is working on right now.”
Sanders continued to explain his campaign’s proposals for expanded background checks and a ban on assault weapons.
“My views on these issues are very, very strong and I support what the president is doing,” he stressed.
When Earnest was pressed on whether Obama’s op-ed meant the president would not campaign for Sanders if he ultimately secured the Democratic nomination for president, Earnest stressed Sanders has indicated he is “willing to revisit” his position, which was “exactly the goal” of the president’s op-ed.
“We want people to change their minds. We want members of Congress to start taking different positions,” Earnest said.
Earnest acknowledged it is possible that Sanders had previously expressed a willingness to revisit the issue following the president’s announcement on executive actions on Tuesday, but admitted he’s “not intimately familiar with the ins and outs” of Sanders’ record.
“If that represents a genuine change in his position as a result of the president's announcement, that's great,” he said. “If Democratic voters across the country confirm that he is the Democratic nominee, then I'm confident that we're going to spend some time here learning about this record and learning about what is on his agenda to make that decision.”