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Political Notebook

Senate chaplain makes rare plea for action on gun violence

Barry Black, chaplain of the US Senate, seen in 2019Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — In his opening prayer Tuesday, the Senate chaplain delivered a rare and pointed plea for lawmakers to take action a day after a shooter killed six people at a private Christian school in Nashville, only the latest in a relentless barrage of gun violence in the United States.

On the Senate floor, the chamber’s longtime chaplain, retired Rear Admiral Barry C. Black, alluded to the fact that three of the victims in Monday’s shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville were 9-year-old students.

“Lord, when babies die at a church school, it is time for us to move beyond thoughts and prayers,” Black declared in his distinctive baritone. “Remind our lawmakers of the words of the British statesman Edmund Burke: ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.’”


Black added: “Lord, deliver our senators from the paralysis of analysis that waits for the miraculous. Use them to battle the demonic forces that seek to engulf us. We pray, in your powerful name, amen.”

The prayer was an unusually piercing call for action from the chaplain, who is a “nonpartisan, nonpolitical, and nonsectarian” elected officer of the Senate. In addition to opening daily sessions with a prayer and holding a weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast, the chaplain provides “spiritual counseling and guidance to members and staff” and assists them with theological questions, according to the Senate website.

Black has served as Senate chaplain since 2003, delivering prayers at two decades’ worth of floor sessions and at notable Capitol events, such as a service for the late senator Robert J. Dole of Kansas and before the sessions for the first impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump. During the latter, Black asked God to “remind our senators that they alone are accountable to you for their conduct . . . that they can’t ignore you and get away with it, for we always reap what we sow.”


Black did not immediately respond to an interview request Tuesday.

At nearly the same time that Black was calling for action in the Senate, lawmakers in the House were giving polarized responses to the latest school shooting, which has once again intensified the focus on gun violence in the United States.

When asked for his thoughts on the Nashville shooting, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana — who himself was critically injured in a 2017 shooting — said he was praying for the victims and their families and dismissed talk of gun legislation.

“I really get angry when I see people trying to politicize it for their own personal agenda, especially when we don’t even know the facts,” Scalise told reporters Tuesday. “It just seems like on the other side, all [Democrats] want to do is take guns away from law-abiding citizens before they even know the facts . . . and that’s not the answer, by the way.”

Shortly afterward, in a subsequent news conference, House Democrats renewed their calls for “meaningful gun safety legislation.”

“We must give families the peace of mind to send their kids to school, not fearing for their lives,” Representative Pete Aguilar, Democrat of California, told reporters. “But we need reasonable Republicans to come to the table to make this happen. It’s an outrage that we can’t find a handful of Republicans [who] are willing to put people over extremism on the far right.”


Washington Post

Congressman who sent card highlighting guns ‘devastated’ by shooting

Representative Andrew Ogles, a Republican who represents the Nashville district where the Covenant School is located, said Monday in a statement that he was “utterly heartbroken” by the shooting there that left six people dead, including three children.

Gun-control advocates and Democrats highlighted another post from Ogles — a 2021 Christmas photo of his family posing with firearms.

After news of the Nashville shooting broke, Ogles said in a statement that he and his family “are devastated by the tragedy that took place at The Covenant School in Nashville this morning.”

“We are sending our thoughts and prayers to the families of those lost,” he said. “As a father of three, I am utterly heartbroken by this senseless act of violence. I am closely monitoring the situation and working with local officials.”

The 2021 photo, which Ogles shared on Facebook, showed him, his wife, and two of his three children holding weapons and smiling in front of a Christmas tree.

“MERRY CHRISTMAS!” Ogles wrote, adding a line that is often — and dubiously — credited to George Washington: “The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference — they deserve a place of honor with all that’s good.”

Ogles is a strong proponent of the Second Amendment and gun ownership. On his campaign website, he said: “Disarming the people is the most effective way to enslave them, and we must remain vigilant when anyone seeks to erode our civil liberties. The rights of the people to keep and bear arms, protect themselves and their families, and prevent tyrannical rule is a fundamental liberty of our constitutional republic.”


On Monday, Ogles’s critics shared the congressman’s statement about the shooting along with the Christmas photo.

“How much more bloodshed will it take?” Representative Veronica Escobar, a Texxas Democrat, wrote in a tweet featuring Ogles’s photo. “It’s. The. Guns.”

Fred Guttenberg, who advocates for gun control after his 14-year-daughter, Jaime, was killed in the Parkland school shooting in 2018, said the tragedy “is listening to Tennessee politicians who refuse to call it a shooting but who engaged in behavior that caused this to be more likely when they glorify guns.”

Ogles, a freshman congressman, represents Tennessee’s Fifth Congressional District, which includes the school. On Monday, a 28-year-old armed with two rifles and a handgun killed at least three children and three adults at the private grade school, where the shooter had been a student, authorities said. The shooter is also dead after being “engaged” by police.

Ogles’s office had no immediate response to the criticism on Monday.

Washington Post

Christie calls for GOP to reject Trump’s politics

MANCHESTER, N.H. — During a town hall Monday at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called on Republicans to reject the anger-fueled politics of former president Donald Trump and those who mimic him.

Christie, who actively supported Trump’s candidacy in 2016 and 2020, said his party suffered bruising defeats in 2018, 2020, and 2022 by yielding to the worst impulses of candidates who are more focused on themselves than their country.


“We are losing because we are playing to anger and retribution and self-indulgence rather than playing to making this country a better place,” he said.

Christie has yet to say whether he will challenge Trump for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, as he did in 2016. But his remarks show how he might try carving out a lane for himself as his party aims to deny President Biden a second term.

“It’s time for us as a party to choose who we want to lead us, who we think is prepared to lead us, who we think can bring us to win on the issues that we care the most about, not who the media or the pollsters or the pundits tell us is most likely to win,” he said.

Christie also criticized Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for his characterization of Russia’s war in Ukraine as a “territorial dispute.” Both Trump and DeSantis, who is widely viewed as a viable Trump challenger, have taken issue with the tens of billions of dollars in aid the United States has sent to Ukraine.

Christie dismissed DeSantis’ comments as naive. He described American aid to Ukraine as an investment with a clear and important message for China, Iran, and North Korea about the US commitment to freedom. “We have an example to set,” he said.

Christie’s position aligns more closely with members in the establishment wing of the GOP, including former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, who’s running for president, and former vice president Mike Pence, who could run.

But what could set Christie apart from the likes of Haley, Pence, and other GOP leaders in 2024 is his willingness to call Trump out.

Saul Shriber of Chester, a registered Republican, voted for Biden in 2020 because he refused to support Trump. After the town hall, Shriber said Christie might wind up being the only GOP candidate to speak about Trump with the frankness that’s needed. Shriber said he likes what Haley has to say but doesn’t see her going after Trump the way Christie does.

Christie’s message might resonate with a broad swath of anti-Trump Republicans, independents, and centrist Democrats, but he’ll have to contend with questions — as he did Monday night — about why he spent years supporting Trump.

In 2016, Christie finished sixth in the New Hampshire primary, suspended his campaign, and endorsed Trump all within a matter of weeks, despite having previously earlier said Trump lacks the temperament needed to be president.

For the town hall audience, Christie recounted how he served Trump’s transition into office, led a commission on opioids and drug abuse, and helped prepare Trump for debate stages. Christie said his breaking point came on election night in 2020, when Trump stood behind the presidential seal and claimed without factual basis that the election had been stolen.

“When you put yourself ahead of our democracy as president of the United States, it’s over,” he said.